Guinea's Fouta Djallon region, where fonio is common, the soils are acidic clays with high aluminum content—a combination toxic to most food crops. It is generally grown just like upland rice, and the two are frequently produced by the same farmers. Normally, the seed is broadcast and covered by a light hoeing. It germinates in 3-4 days and grows very rapidly. This quick establishment and the heavy seeding rate (usually 10-20 kg of seed per hectare) ensures that the fields seldom need weeding. In a few cases the crop is transplanted from seedbeds to give it an even better chance at surviving the harsh conditions.

In Sierra Leone, and probably elsewhere, fonio is often grown following, or even instead of, wetland rice. This is done particularly when the season proves too dry for good paddy production and the farmers decide to give up on the rice. Fonio thus serves as an insurance against total crop failure.

In certain areas, fonio may sometimes be planted together with sorghum or pearl millet. Indeed, it is frequently the staple, while the other two are considered reserves. Commonly, farmers in Guinea sow multiple varieties of fonio and then later fill in any gaps with fast maturing varieties of guinea millet (Brachiaria deflexar).11

HARVESTING AND HANDLING

Fonio grain is handled in traditional ways. The plants are usually cut with a knife or sickle, tied into sheaves, dried, and stored under cover. Good yields are normally 600-800 kg per hectare, but more than 1,000 kg per hectare has been recorded. In marginal areas, yields may drop to below 500 kg and on extremely poor soils may be merely 150-200 kg per hectare.12

Traditionally, the grain is threshed by beating or trampling, and it is dehulled in a mortar. This is difficult and time-consuming.

The seed stores well.

LIMITATIONS

Because of the lack of attention, fonio is still agronomically primitive. It suffers from small seeds, low yields, and some seed shattering.

The plant responds to fertilizers, but most types are so spindly that fertilization makes them top-heavy and they may blow over (lodge).

11  

Portères, 1976. This fonio-like grain is described in the chapter on other cultivated grains, page 237.

12  

As noted elsewhere, yield figures such as these can be very misleading. They may be low, but hungry rice produces a yield on sites or in seasons when other cereals yield nothing whatever.



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