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Chef Fatmata Binta on a fonio farm in Chereponi, Ghana.

Chef Fatmata Binta on a fonio farm in Chereponi, Ghana.

Photographer: Nipah Dennis for Bloomberg Green
Made in Africa

The Ancient Superfood That Can Help Ease Hunger in a Parched World

Fonio, a healthy and drought-resilient grain native to West Africa, could bolster the region’s food security with advances in how it is harvested and processed. 

As a hunger crisis deepens in West Africa’s Sahel region, leaving almost 40 million people facing food insecurity, a native grain that’s been grown in much the same way for 5,000 years may offer a solution. Sometimes called a superfood, fonio is nutrient-rich and gluten-free, making it easy to digest. Plus, it has a low glycemic index, so it doesn’t cause blood sugar to spike. It’s a hardy crop, needing little fertilizer or attention to grow. And crucially, it doesn’t require much water, meaning it’s resilient to dry conditions, which climate change will intensify.

In the Sahel, the drought belt separating the Sahara desert to the north from forests to the south, fonio has long helped farmers make up for lean harvests. “I’ve grown fonio since I was a child,” says Kojo Kwame Gandi, an elderly man in the village of Chereponi in northeast Ghana. “My family of six can share one bowl of fonio and be full. But the young people want things easy—there’s too much work to do with fonio.”