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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
dramatically, farming methods made less laborious, and markets developed—all without affecting the plant's resilience and reliability. These results, and more, are likely to come about quickly once fonio becomes as important to the world's scientists as it is to West Africa's farmers.
General activities to raise awareness of this crop's value and potential include a monograph, a newsletter, a ''friends of fonio" society, a fonio cookbook, a series of fonio cook-offs, and fonio conferences. These could be complemented by publicity, seed distributions, and experiments to test fonio's farm qualities and cultivation limits.
It should not be too difficult to generate excitement for this "lost gourmet food of the great ancestors." It might prove a good basis for recreating traditional cuisines. Even export as a highly nutritious specialty grain is a possibility.
Despite its importance, fonio is a crop less than halfway to its potential. There have been few, if any, attempts to optimize, on a scientific basis, the process of growing it. Its taxonomy, cultivation, nutritional value, and time to harvest are only partially documented. Varieties have neither been compared, nor their seed even collected, on a systematic basis. Little or no research has been done on postharvest deterioration, storage, or preservation methods.
An early priority should be to collect germplasm.13 Varieties are particularly numerous in the Fouta Djallon Plateau in Guinea and around the upper basins of the Senegal and Niger Rivers.14 Among these will certainly be found some outstanding types. This alone seems likely to lead to better cultivars that will bring marked advances in fonio production. The collection should also be screened to determine if yield is limited by viruses.15 If so, the creation of virus-free seed might also boost yields dramatically.
The smallness of the grain offers a special challenge to cereal scientists: can the seeds be enlarged—perhaps through selection, hybridization, or other genetic manipulation?
One reviewer suggested asking village schoolmasters to collect seeds of all the different types in their areas. He reports getting outstanding assistance in this way on a project (in northern Nigeria) dealing with another widespread but little-known crop.
Historically, these were the domains of the old empires of Mali, developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and it is there that fonio probably was brought to its apogee.
In 1985, pangola grass (Digitaria decumbens), a related species that is widely planted as a tropical forage, was found to carry a stunt virus.