Research project brings African grain to European tables
A project funded under the EU's Research Programme explores properties of the African cereal fonio as a healthy and cheap addition to European diets, while at the same time generating incomes for local producers.
The base ingredient for Djouka is fonio; you can be forgiven for never having heard of it. Fonio cereal is little known in Europe, but it is a major food staple for the people of West Africa. The EU project, known as FONIO, is working with local African growers to enhance production and bring the crop to the European market.
The FONIO project falls under the Specific International Scientific Cooperation Activities (INCO) rubric of FP6. It is managed by the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), and involves interdisciplinary research scientists from three European countries (France, Netherlands and Belgium) and 4 West African countries (Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal). The project is expected to take three years to complete.
According to the CIRAD website, fonio is experiencing renewed interest in urban areas of Western Africa, particularly for its flavour and nutritional qualities. It has a composition similar to that of white rice, but is richer in magnesium, zinc and manganese than other cereals, as well as having high sulphur amino acid (methionine and cystine) content. Sulphur amino acids are crucial for proper heart function and nerve transmission, and cereals are an essential source of amino acids for people with low meat intake.
The overall objective of the project is to “improve quality
and diversity of the fonio products to export and increase the
incomes of the producers and the processors,” according
to the project's website. It also aims to increase the
productivity at different stages in the commodity chain, i.e.
adapted varieties, appropriated production and farming systems,
innovation in post-harvest mechanisation, etc.
Researchers are hoping such efforts will shore up regional trade and foster increased export for high quality white fonio and other value added products. At the same time they will study ways to improve competitiveness for local growers and farmers as a way to boost their incomes. In the long term, they plan to evaluate how a developed export market will impact the local commodity chain.
Jean-François Cruz, FONIO project coordinator, sees gaining
a foothold in the European market as a multi–step process.