Fonio (Digitaria exilis) is a traditional cereal in West Africa, grown by women and men smallholder farmers either as food crop to reduce impacts of the hungry period, to diversify their own diets, or to sell as cash crop. In addition to its role in food security in many areas of Mali, Burkina Faso, and some parts of Niger, fonio is increasingly recognized for its nutritional value as well as an income source for farmers. Its contents of insulin-secreting amino acids (valine, leucine, isoleucine) is higher compared to other cereals such as rice, maize or millet, making fonio suitable for patients of some diseases like diabetes. Due to the small size of the seed (1 to 1.5 mm in length), processing fonio is a difficult and time-consuming task, especially for women, who have traditionally processed the grain. Some women’s groups process fonio into easy-to-cook products for local and urban markets.In Mali, neither improved varieties nor official agronomic recommendations exist to support farmers in their fonio cultivation. Therefore, this project targeting fonio production in Mali was initiated. In the initial project phase, a fonio germplasm collection was characterized, superior ecotypes were identified for different target zones, seed of these were multiplied, and promising agronomic practices were tested.
Fonio Phase I:Establish, characterize and maintain a Malian national collection of fonioIdentify potentially productive ecotypes with a low rate of shattering at maturityIdentify by molecular characterization ecotypes for future use by plant breeders and food technologistsIdentify by culinary characterization ecotypes with a good hulling yields, better swelling ability and a good chewy texture of the grains after cooking;Identify economically profitable mineral fertilization rates for fonio;Establish in partnership with farmers a new place for fonio in crop rotations to increase yieldsFonio Phase II:Validate the results of the molecular characterization of ecotypes from Mali and characterize ecotypes from neighboring countriesEvaluate and multiply the best fonio ecotypes with women and men farmers. Official registration of higher-yielding, farmer-preferred fonio varieties (derived from existing “ecotypes”) for different agro-ecologiesDetermine the amount of urea fertilization, fonio planting density and timing of field works that would be economically most rentable in different contextsEvaluate the effect of incorporation of fonio residues on soil fertility and yield of the subsequent cropIdentify via sensual testing fonio ecotypes that correspond to user’s taste preferences and initiate the women at the project intervention sites to preparation of new fonio dishesStrengthen the capacities of women and men fonio farmers in participatory variety selection, acquisition of a decorticating machine, and establishment of a discussion platform for farmers and fonio processing teams to enhance local market linkages
Outputs and Outcomes:
Fonio Phase I:44 new fonio landraces were characterized revealing significant differences among ecotypes for grain yield (1400-1870 kg/ha), maturity cycle (81and 94 days) number of recemes. differences between the two test sites.Multilocal trial evaluation of the best 28 fonio ecotypes from the previous year at 4 sites. Highly sign. G*E for yield (100 kg/ ha -2433 kg/ ha).Technological characterization of fonio ecotypes, concerning their dehusking rate, which varied between 35% and 84% in this study, and concerning the soaking capacity/ water absorption during cooking, which varied between 130% and 199%.Of the multilocal trial of 28 fonio ecotypes, 10 ecotypes which met their appreciation were selected by farmers. 1880 kg of Seeds of the selected ecotyped were propagated for future research and farmers’ seed multiplication plots.Fonio Phase II:At Cinzana, no specific challenges were encounter during the growing season. At Farako, the vegetative appearance was good, visible differences were observed during the growing period but yields have not followed for reasons that we cannot explain.During the field trial to evaluated the effect of seeding rate and weed control on Fonio at Cinzana, a higher weed level was observed in non-weeded plots but no yield difference was found.The participatory evaluation of the best Fonio ecotypes found that the flowering periods are between 55 and 90 days. It allows each farmer to choose the variety which is compatible with her or his cultural calendar. The grain yield varied between 160 and 980 kg/ha. Among 35 ecotypes, 7 were earlier and yielded better than the local check. The producers also identified genotypes with big grains. The thickness of grains is a favorable characteristic on the market. Three better varieties chosen by the producers were Fini de Solosso, Fini wintiguibougou and Finiba de Samakou Dansira. They were appreciated for their precocity, the density of the fertile tallage and the thickness of grains.Organoleptic characterizations of Fonio:For the texture, the appreciations varied between 62 and 86%. The best ecotypes were Finiba bakary, Siragué et Finiba Samakou. For the taste, the appreciations varied between 64 and 88%. The best ecotypes were Fini de Bomborokuy et Fini de Salif mariko. For the color, the appreciations varied between 52 and 92%. The best ecotypes were Fini de Bomborokuy et Fini de Momo Filidabo Sissoko.The varieties with the best organoleptic characteristics were Fini de Bomborokuy, Momo/Filidabo Sissoko, Fini/Solosso et Faniba/Bakary NTH Sidibé