where little else succeeds. These are good underpinnings for fonio's future advancement.


Humid Areas

Low prospects. Fonio is mainly a plant of the savannas and is probably ill adapted to lowland humid zones. It seems likely to succumb to various fungal and bacterial diseases. However, white fonio does grow around the Gola Forest in southeastern Sierra Leone, and black fonio is reportedly cultivated in Zaire and some other equatorial locations. These special varieties (occasionally misnamed as Digitaria nigeria) are possibly adapted to hot and humid conditions.

Dry Areas

High prospects. People in many dry areas of West Africa like fonio. They know that it originated locally, and they have long-established traditions for cultivating, storing, processing, and preserving it. During thousands of years of selection and use, they have located types well adapted to their needs and conditions. Although the plant is not as drought resistant as pearl millet, the fast-maturing types are highly suited to areas where rains are brief and unreliable.

Upland Areas

Excellent prospects. Fonio is the staple of many people in the Plateau State of Nigeria and the Fouta Djallon plateau of Guinea, both areas with altitudes of about 1,000 m.

Other Regions

This plant should not be moved out of its native zones. In more equable parts of the world it might become a serious weed.5


Fonio grain is used in a variety of ways. For instance, it is made into porridge and couscous, ground and mixed with other flours to make breads, popped,6 and brewed for beer. It has been described as


It is a relative of crabgrass, a European crop introduced to the United States in the 1800s as a possible food and now a much-reviled invader of lawns. However, white fonio is grown for forage in parts of the United States—apparently without causing problems.


Little or nothing has been reported on popping this crop, but in southern Togo women put a little fonio into a metal pot and swirl it over a fire. Within a few seconds the grains begin bursting and bouncing, and the result is a light and puffy white material. Information from D. Osborn.

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