Animal feed resources information system

Fonio (Digitaria exilis) grain

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).


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Common names 
  • Fonio, acha, acha grass, white acha, mouldy acha, fonio, fonio millet, fundi millet, fundi, white fonio, fundi, hungry rice, hungry millet, hungry koos,acha [English];
  • fonio, fonio blanc, fogno, fundi, petit mil, millet digitaire [French]; 
  • digitaria, funde [Spanish]
  • podgi [Dahomey]; 
  • sùurù [Yoruba];
  • apendi, fan fan kanpene, fen, ffan, fo, foni, pue, pwe, sereme [Burkina-Faso];
  • dibong, findi, findi ba, findo, monyimonyo, mormor [Gambia];
  • atcha, epich, kabega [Ghana];
  • kpende, kpendo, fayaon, foigné, foignié, foinye,fonde, fongo, foni, fonie, fonié, fonio, fonyo, founde, foundé, foundioune, founié, funde, fundé, fundenyo, fundiune, funie, kpendo, pende, podé, podegui, podégui, pounié, punie, tau [Guinea]; 
  • bofinhè, fènhe, findo, fonio, fundo, rote, uante, udote, urote, urrote [Guinea-Bissau];
  • fini, pohim, pohin, pom [Ivory Coast];
  • faïné, fani, fanom, feni, findi, fingi, fini, fodio, foni, fonio, foundé, fundé, funi, po, pon, serémé, tau [Mali]; 
  • entaya, fingi, fira, fodio, fonio, foyo [Niger];
  • acca, accà, accaa, accàà, accari, acha, akang, anea, beenci, beentsu, burma, bwrik, cà, caba, chehel, chyung, cikarai, cun, derè, difera, firo, fulubihi, gashish, giya, gumba, imeru, impuke, intaya, ira, irya, kashá, kasha, kolimo, kreb, kunu, mili, ndat, ntiya, num-mwi, omburu, osikapa acha, pocho, pyeng, salla, san, sarembe, siring, suung, suuru, sùurù, syinang, tuk, tuwo, wete, weté, zor [Nigeria];
  • dekolé, ebonay, ebonyaie, eboniaye, efoleb, efoled, fide, find, findi, fonden, fonden ibala, fonden ifesyax, fonden i swegt, fonden i swget, fonio, fono, geponden, n’dendue, n’dengue, ndengue, sanglé, séréné [Senegal];
  • ampindi, apende, apende pafunf, apende, palel apende pa siragbe, apeni, apote, fani, fonde, fondiba, fonye, funa, funde, funde na, fundenyi, fundi, fundili, funi, funye, kaene, kpendo, kputi, milet, mpende, paene, peni, penile, pote, siragbe, yele fui [Sierra Leone];
  • figm, kafea, nfoni, pigim, tschamma [Togo](Vodouhè et al., 2006; Quattrocchi, 2006).
Taxonomic information 

The fonio species described in this datasheet is white fonio (Digitaria exilis Stapf). Another fonio species, black fonio, exists and was named after the name Iboru given by locals in northern Nigeria and then tranformed into Digitaria iburua by Stapf in 1915 (Cruz et al., 2016). Black fonio also called iburu has slightly bigger and darker grains, hence the name black.


Fonio grain is the tiny and husked seed produced by the annual cereal species Digitaria exilis also called fonio. Fonio grain is mainly used for food and not for feed.

Worldwide, fonio (Digitaria exilis Stapf) is a little known crop. However, in West Africa, where it is mainly produced, it plays a major role in food security, preventing food shortages as it ripens outstandingly faster than other crops and can be harvested one month before other cereals like maize or millet. Fonio provides high quality grain, one of the world best tasting (nutty) cereal grain, with favourable aminoacid profile (Vodouhè et al., 2006; NRC, 1996).An important trait of fonio is its resistance to drought and its adaptation to climate change (Cruz et al., 2016).

Fonio grain is thus primarily used as food and not feed though it can be very valuable for monogastric animals (Clottey et al., 2006). Fonio straw and chaff provide forage for ruminants (see Fonio (Digitaria exilis) forage datasheet).


Fonio is an ascending, free-tillering annual cereal grass. It has slender, kneed stems growing up to 80 cm in height. The leaves are alternate, simple. The leaf-blade is glabrous, linear to lanceolate in shape, 5–15 cm long × 0.3–0.9 cm broad. The inflorescence, a terminal digitate panicle, bears 2–5 slender, spike-like racemes, up to 15 cm long. The spikelet is stalked, narrowly ellipsoid, surrounded by lemma, palea, and glumes. The fruits is a minute caryopsis (grain), oblong to globose-ellipsoid in shape, c. 0.5 mm long, white to pale brown or purplish in colour (Vodouhè et al., 2006). 1,000 grains weigh only 0.5 g on average. making fonio the smallest cereal grain worldwide (Jideani et al., 1993).


Fonio is a staple food but also gourmet and prestige food ("chief’s food"). It is used to make special couscous types in the Hausa parts of Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana. It is cooked with beans to prepare a dish for special occasions in southern Togo. In Nigeria, fonio grain is milled to yield a flour that is used for porridges (thick, unfermented porridge named "tuwo acha", and thin, fermented porridges: "kunu acha") or for bread, in mixture with other flours. Boiled whole grains can be cooked with vegetables, fish or meat to make what is called "Fat fonio" in Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso (Cruz et al., 2016). Fonio grain can be fermented to prepare the beer "Tchapalo". In the Dominican Republic, fonio is used in religious festivities inherited from African slaves (Vodouhè et al., 2006).

Large fonio production intended for human consumption is sometimes restricted by time consuming post-harvest handling, especially dehulling and polishing of the small grains. In this case, fonio grain can be considered a valuable, readily digestible raw material for farm animals (Vodouhè et al., 2006). In ethnomedicine, fonio grain is recommended for lactating women and diabetic people (Vodouhè et al., 2006).


Fonio is one of the oldest indigenous cereal of West Africa: its cultivation is thought to date back to 5,000 BC (Purseglove, 1985). The main domestication centre of fonio was reported to be the central delta of the River Niger (Portères, 1976). 

In their cosmogony, the Dogon of Mali refer to fonio as the original atom of the universe. During the14th century, in "Voyage to Sudan", the Berber explorer Ibn Battûta reported a couscous prepared with foûni (fonio), a grain "which is like mustard seed"(Cruz et al., 2016). In the 19th century, the French René Caillé describes fonio as a small grass species and staple food used to prepare the gruel "tau". In the early 20th it was reported to grow fast and prevent food shortages (Cruz et al., 2016).

Fonio is cultivated in West Africa between the 8 and 14°N from the Senegal to Lake Chad. Eastwards it is replaced by coracan (Eleusine coracana). In Guinea, in the mountainous regions of Fouta-Djalon, fonio represents one of the staple foods of the population but fonio is also widely cultivated in Mali, Burkina Faso, in Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Benin, Senegal (Cruz et al., 2016). Outside Africa, fonio is cultivated in the Dominican Republic where it was introduced during the 15th century and is valued for its resistance to drought (Morales-Payan et al., 2002).

Fonio can grow in tropical climate in lowlands where annual rainfall is between 600 and 1200 mm with a marked dry season, and average temperatures ranging from 25 to 30°C. At higher altitudes, in the mountains of Fouta-Djalon at up to 1500 m altitude, fonio is grown in places where annual rainfall is between 1500 and 2000 mm and temperatures are cooler (15 to 25 °C during the growing season) (Cruz et al., 2016).

Fonio grows in most soils be they sandy, loamy, even stony and shallow and very poor and infertile soils, it can adapt to steep slopes and wetter areas, commonly along rivers (Vodouhè et al., 2006; Philip et al., 2006). Only very clayey soils are less suitable for fonio cultivation (Philip et al., 2006). Fonio plant can grow on acidic soils with high aluminium content that are lethal to other crops (NRC, 1996).

Worldwide production of fonio grain was 671,000 tons in 2017. The average yield was about 0.7 ton/ha but it ranged from 0.4 ton/ha in Nigeria to 1.4 ton/ha in Ivory Coast (FAO, 2019).



In some places, fonio maturity occurs at the beginning of the rainy season and the harvest must be done between rains. The fonio plant is lodging which makes mechanical harvesting particularly uneasy. The plant is traditionnally harvested by hand: it is cut with a sickle and gathered into sheaves which are then transported to the barn where they are left to dry in stacks, in a well aerated place to prevent moulding and overheating. In places where fonio can be harvested later, at the end of the rainy season, the cut plants can be left in stacks on the field before threshing (Cruz et al., 2016).

Fonio plant can be cut at its the upper third if the farmer intends to let animals graze the stubbles and then plough the remains into the ground to improve soil fertility. If the straw of fonio is intended for fodder, the plant is cut close to the ground in order to maximize the amount of straw (Cruz et al., 2016)

Threshing and de-hulling

Once dry, the fonio grain is threshed to separate the grain from the stems. Threshing can start start very soon after harvest if the grain is awaited to prevent famine. In more food secure places, it is most often threshed after 1 or 2 weeks. In sub-humid areas it can even wait more than a month before threshing. Threshing is traditionnally done manually with rods. The threshing area has to be very clean to prevent grain contamination with grits or pebbles. It can be covered with mats or plastic sheets (Vall et al., 2007). After threshing the grain is winnowed and can be stored. Some mechanical threshers have been developed: thay are adapted from rice threshers. They are used since the late 1990's (Cruz et al., 2016).


Fonio grain is stored in its dressed form (undehulled). Optimal preservation requires a lower level of humidity in the fonio grain than in other cereal: 11% vs. 13% in main cases. If it is adequately dried and stored fonio grain has a long shelf-life (up to years) (Cruz et al., 2016)

De-hulling and polishing

Many operations are time-consuming in harvest and post-harvest handling of fonio, and the de-hulling is reported to be the worst one. This operation aims at removing the hulls of the "paddy fonio" (in accordance with the term used for rice). It is traditionnally done by women who gently pound the fonio grain with a pestle in a mortar to crack the hulls and then winnow successively to separate the grain from the hulls. The grinding/winnowing process is repeated 4 to 5 times to obtain de-hulled fonio grain or pre-whitened fonio grain (the 5th series of grinding/winnowing removes the bran). Nowadays, some machines can be used to de-hull fonio grain. They save a precious time (Cruz et al., 2016)


After de-hulling and whitening, the fonio grain may still be contaminated with grits and pebbles that are one of the main constraints for fonio development (Cruz et al., 2016)

Forage management 

Fonio is an outstandingly fast growing cereal. The seed is very small and should not be burried deeper than 6 cm which is a lethal depth. Sowing depth of 2 cm was reported to be optimal. The soil can be lightly ploughed or hoed prior to sowing. The seed can be broadcasted or preferably drilled in single row since drilling in row makes weeding easier and increases grain yield (Dachi et al., 2017; Cruz et al., 2016). The seed sowing rate is high (20-40kg/ha) because there are many causes of seed mortality: the heavy rains can remove the seed or burry them too deep, and the birds can eat the seeds. Germination is very fast and the plantlet is highly resistant to drought which allows fonio to grow even in harsh conditions (Cruz et al., 2016).

Environmental impact 

Climate-smart crop

The outstanding ability of fonio plantlet to survive droughts during the early stages of its development combined with low GHG emissions make it a potential climate smart crop in semi-arid areas (Andrieu et al., 2015).


Through years and countries, farmers have obtained numerous local cultivars of fonio well-suited to their environment, thereby contributing to the development of biodiversity (Dansi et al., 2010; Niangado, 2008).

Soil depletion

Fonio has long been suspected of depleting the soil. It seems, on the contrary, that it was virtually the sole crop that could grow on already depleted soils (Cruz et al., 2016).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

The fonio grain is mainly a source of energy. It has medium protein content (8.5% on average) but depends on the dehulling and was reported to vary from 3.75 to 7.75 in polished fonio grains in Ghana (Clottey et al., 2006). The aminoacid profile of fonio grain is valuable with higher methionine and cystine than other cereal grains like maize or sorghum (Clottey et al., 2006).


No information could be found about the use of fonio grain in ruminants diet (as of 2019). It can however be assumed that its high energy content and good aminoacid profile and mineral content would make it a good source of energy for ruminants.


Refering to fonio grain composition, it has been reported that fonio grain could be valuable for feeding monogastric animals (Clottey et al., 2006).


Refering to fonio grain composition, it has been reported that fonio grain could be valuable for feeding monogastric animals (Clottey et al., 2006).

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 88.8 2.0 85.3 91.2 6
Crude protein % DM 8.5 1.3 7.4 11.0 6
Crude fibre % DM 3.4 3.9 0.4 9.4 6
NDF % DM 7.8 1
ADF % DM 2.2 1
Lignin % DM 0.3 1
Ether extract % DM 1.7 1.2 0.3 3.4 6
Ash % DM 5.8 5.4 0.3 14.5 6
Starch (polarimetry) % DM 86.5 1
Total sugars % DM 0.2 1
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.3 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 1.0 0.9 0.2 2.2 4
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.1 1.2 0.6 3.2 4
Potassium g/kg DM 1.8 1
Magnesium g/kg DM 0.9 1
Manganese mg/kg DM 8 1
Zinc mg/kg DM 27 1
Copper mg/kg DM 4 1
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Arginine % protein 3.8 1
Cystine % protein 2.8 1
Glycine % protein 3.2 1
Histidine % protein 2.1 1
Isoleucine % protein 4.0 1
Leucine % protein 9.8 1
Lysine % protein 2.6 1
Methionine % protein 5.6 1
Phenylalanine % protein 5.1 1
Threonine % protein 4.0 1
Tryptophan % protein 1.4 1
Tyrosine % protein 3.6 1
Valine % protein 5.8 1
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 86.8 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 82.7 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 14.3 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 12.0 *
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 84.8 *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 14.6 *
MEn growing pig MJ/kg DM 14.3 *
NE growing pig MJ/kg DM 11.6 *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Carbiener et al., 1960; CIRAD, 1991; Cirad, 2008; Mongodin et al., 1965; Oyenuga, 1968

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:12

Datasheet citation 

DATASHEET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT QUOTE. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/228 Last updated on April 2, 2019, 15:26