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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
source of forage, since it persists in a dry but palatable state until the next rainy period.16
On the other hand, kram-kram is vicious. It is a sandbur whose grains are enclosed in clusters (fascicles) surrounded with many sharp spines. These grab onto the fur of animals and the clothing of people. Indeed, they easily penetrate flesh and have literally been thorns in people's sides for millennia. Travelers have long complained of the plant's "troublesome nature" and "constant inconvenience," but they did admit that it was also very useful. "Many of the Tawarek, from Bornu as far as Timbuktu,'' wrote Heinrich Barth in the mid-1800s, "subsist more or less upon its seed."
When mature, the burs fall to the sand in great quantities, often clinging together in giant masses that roll along with the wind, growing as they go. People sweep them up with bunches of straw or with giant "combs." They throw them into a wooden mortar and pound and winnow away the troublesome spines, leaving behind the white, flavorful seeds.
Livestock cannot abide the prickly spikelets, but they like grazing on kram-kram both in its juvenile state and after the spiky burs have fallen off. The plant grows vigorously, and during the rainy period it can be cut several times for hay or silage. The hay must be made at times when the burs are absent, but silage can be made at any time because the fermentation softens the bristles, so that animals digest them without difficulty.
Not all forms of this plant are spiky nuisances. At least one has blunt inner spines and no outer spines at all. It has been called Cenchrus leptacanthus. If this type breeds true and if it could be developed as a crop, it would make kram-kram easier to handle and perhaps very valuable as a forage for many dry areas.17
A related species, also used as a wild cereal, is Cenchrus prieurii. It is spread throughout the Sahara from Senegal to Ethiopia (as well as India). People eat the crushed grain, mainly as porridge.
Of all the grasses of the central delta of the Niger, bourgou (Echinochloa stagnina) was once the most prevalent. At one time it covered an estimated 250,000 hectares. (Much of that land, which is
Information from R. Bartha.
A close relative. Cenchrus ciliaris (commonly known as "buffel grass"), is a perennial with a very high forage value. It is increasingly used throughout the world's tropics and subtropics.