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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
flooded for part of each year, is now under cultivated rice, see Chapter 1.) The Fulani people, for example, harvested large amounts of bourgou seed for food. They also got sugar from the plant. Some of the sugar produced by photosynthesis is not converted to starch and accumulates in the stems. People used it in beverages, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. Even today, some sugar is still extracted from bourgou and is utilized especially for making sweetmeats and a liqueur.
This grass is found typically along river banks and other moist areas, especially those of Central Africa and on the central delta of the Niger. Recently, a farsighted UN-sponsored project has begun to restore some of the old bourgou stands in the area (see box, page 264).
Although its seeds are harvested for food, bourgou today is mainly used for fodder. For this purpose, it is notably important at the beginning of the dry season. As the annual floodwaters recede, it provides the vital forage needed to fatten livestock before the dry season sets in and their drastic weight losses begin.
The genus Echinochloa is one of the larger ones in the grass family. Two more species used for food in Africa are the following.
Antelope grass (Echinochloa pyramidalis)
This native of tropical Africa, southern Africa, and Madagascar is primarily used for fodder, but is also used locally as flour.
Shama millet (Echinochloa colona)
This plant probably originated in Asia, but it has been in Africa a very long time. Today people eat its grain only in dry years, although Egyptians possibly once grew it as a cereal on farms. The plant thrives in wet, clay soils where few grasses do well (in some African languages it is called "waterstraw"). Beyond its use as a food, the plant is suitable for making hay and silage and is relished by livestock.
At least one Dactyloctenium species is eaten in Africa. It is the so-called Egyptian grass (Dactyloctenium aegyptium). This annual of the Sahara and the Sudan is now widely naturalized in different parts of the tropics and subtropics, including North America. It has never been considered as a possible cultivated crop, but nomads and others in its homeland (as well as Australian aborigines) gather the grains for food. The plant mostly grows in heavy soils at damp sites below 1,500 m. Livestock enjoy it, and it is also suitable for making hay and silage.