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Fonio (Digitaria exilis) grain


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

A popular staple food in West Africa, fonio is known under many 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 [Benin]
  • 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, 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 

This datasheet is about the white fonio (Digitaria exilis Stapf). A closely related species, the black fonio (Digitaria iburua Stapf), named after its local name "iboru" in northern Nigeria, is also cultivated and has slightly bigger and darker grains (Cruz et al., 2016).


Fonio (Digitaria exilis Stapf) is an annual tropical grass grown in West Africa for its starch-rich, tiny seeds. In this region, fonio grain 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 grain is a high quality cereal, with a particularly good nutty taste, and a favourable amino acid 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, once dehulled and polished to removed the hulls and bran, is primarily used for food rather than for feed though it can be very valuable for monogastric animals (Clottey et al., 2006). Fonio straw and chaff provide forage for ruminants (see the Fonio 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 fruit is a minute caryopsis (grain), oblong to globose-ellipsoid in shape, about 0.5 mm long, white to pale brown or purplish in colour (Vodouhè et al., 2006). The 1000-grain weight is only about 0.5 g, making fonio the smallest cereal grain worldwide (Jideani et al., 1993).


Fonio is a staple food but also a 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. Fonio grain can be fermented to prepare the beer "tchapalo" (Cruz et al., 2016). Fonio production and consumption are highly linked to the social and cultural lives of the populations. In Mali, Dogon cosmology refers to fonio as the original atom of the universe. In the Dominican Republic, fonio is used in religious festivities inherited from African slaves. Many ethnomedicinal properties are attributed to this grain (Vodouhè et al., 2006; Adoukonou-Sagbadja et al., 2006).

It must be noted that fonio harvest and particularly its post-harvest operations are traditionally done manually and are extremely tedious and time-consuming, leading many observers to consider that these issues are a major bottleneck in the processing and utilization of fonio (Philip et al., 2006; Cruz et al., 2016). In fonio-producing regions of Togo, for instance, it was reported in 2006 that younger generations of farmers were less and less taking an interest in this grain due to the tediousness of its processing (Adoukonou-Sagbadja et al., 2006).

While primarily used for food, fonio grain could be a valuable feed for farm animals due to its high energy et methionine content (NRC, 1996). Its use has been noted in Togo for poultry feeding (Adoukonou-Sagbadja et al., 2006).


Fonio is one of the oldest indigenous cereal of West Africa and its cultivation dates back to 5000 BCE (Purseglove, 1985). The main domestication centre of fonio was reported to be the central delta of the River Niger (Portères, 1955). In the 14th century, in "Voyage to Sudan", Berber explorer Ibn Battûta reported a couscous prepared with "foûni", a grain "which is like mustard seed" (Cruz et al., 2016). In the 19th century, French explorer René Caillé describes fonio as a small grass species and staple food used to prepare the gruel "tau". In the early 20th century 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 the finger millet (Eleusine coracana). Fonio is widely cultivated in Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Cost, Nigeria, Benin, and Senegal. In Guinea, it is a staple food in the mountainous regions of Fouta-Djalon (Cruz et al., 2016). Outside Africa, fonio was introduced in the 15th century in the Dominican Republic where it 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 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: sandy, loamy, stony and shallow, and even on very poor and infertile soils. It can grow on steep slopes and in 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 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 t in 2017. The average yield was about 0.7 t/ha and ranged from 0.4 t/ha in Nigeria to 1.4 t/ha in Ivory Coast (FAO, 2019).



In some areas, maturity occurs at the beginning of the rainy season and the harvest must be done between rains. The plant is lodging which makes mechanical harvesting particularly uneasy. Fonio 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 areas 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 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 dehulling

Once dry, the plant is threshed to separate the grain from the stems. Threshing can 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, threshing can be done more than a month after harvest. 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., 2008). After threshing, the grain is winnowed and can be stored. Some mechanical threshers, adapted from rice threshers, have been developed and are used since the late 1990s (Cruz et al., 2016).


Fonio grain is stored in its hulled (whole) form, sometimes called paddy fonio. Optimal preservation requires a lower level of humidity in the fonio grain than in other cereals: 11% vs. 13% in main cases. If it is adequately dried and stored, fonio grain can a shelf life of several years (Cruz et al., 2016)

Dehulling and polishing

Dehulling is the most time-consuming post-harvest operation for fonio. The removal of the hulls of the paddy fonio is traditionally done by women who pound the grains 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 dehulled grain or prewhitened fonio grain. The last grinding/winnowing operation removes the bran to obtained the "whitened" or polished fonio. Machines to dehull and whiten fonio have been developed in the early 2000s (Cruz et al., 2016).


After polishing, the whitened grain must be washed, sometimes several times, to remove impurities such as dust and bran fragments, and then "de-gritted" to remove pebbles and grits, in an operation similar to gold panning. These operations are difficult, time-consuming, and require up to 10 L of water to process 1 kg of grain (Cruz et al., 2016).

Forage management 

Fonio is a very fast-growing cereal. The seed is very small and should not be burried deeper than 6 cm which is a lethal depth for this species. A 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: heavy rains can remove the seeds or bury 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 the fonio plantlet to survive droughts during the early stages of its development, combined with low greenhouse gas emissions make it a potential climate smart crop in semi-arid areas (Andrieu et al., 2015).


There are numerous local cultivars of fonio well-suited to their environment, thereby contributing to biodiversity (Dansi et al., 2010; Niangado, 2008). For instance, more than 40 landraces have been identified in fonio-producing areas of Togo (Adoukonou-Sagbadja et al., 2006).

Soil depletion

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

Water consumption and wastes

Fonio processing requires important quantities of water, which is a constraint in semi-arid regions. The resulting waste water is an environmental concern and one of the main problems of the fonio industry (Cruz et al., 2016).

Fonio straw and fonio husks are often left to rot on the field or burned, causing soil and air pollution: the use of these crop residues for fodder, compost or organic fertilization, or other industrial uses could limit these negative effects (Akinfemi, 2012; Shamle et al., 2014).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

The fonio grain is mainly a source of energy, with a starch content about 68% in the whole (non-dehulled grain) and in the 70-93% range in the dehulled and polished grain (Fliedel et al., 2004). The protein content of the whole (non dehulled) grain is about 9% DM in average ranging from values lower than 4% to more than 10%. The protein content of the dehulled and polished grain can be slightly lower (Fliedel et al., 2004). The amino acid profile of fonio grain is remarkable for its high methionine content (about 5.6% of protein), which is much higher than that of other cereals. However, its lysine content (2.5 % of protein) is lower than that of maize and wheat. The fibre content of the whole grain (crude fibre 6% DM) is higher than that of maize, wheat and sorghum, and similar to that of barley. Dehulled and polished fonio have very low amounts of fibre.

Potential constraints 

While the presence of antinutritional factors (tannins, oxalates, cyanhydric acid, saponins) has been reported (Echendu et al., 2009; Anuonye et al., 2010), the values found were extremely low or at trace levels and unlikely to cause problems.


No information could be found about the use of fonio grain in ruminant diets (as of 2019). However, its high energy content could make it a good source of energy for ruminants.


No information could be found about the use of fonio grain in pig diets (as of 2019). Due to its high energy and methionine content, it has been considered that fonio grain could be valuable for feeding monogastric animals, including pigs (NRC, 1996).


Due to its high energy and methionine content, it has been considered that fonio grain could be valuable for feeding monogastric animals, including poultry (NRC, 1996). In a survey of farmers in two fonio-producing regions in Togo, 5% of the respondents reported the use of fonio grains in feeding poultry, especially young Guinea fowl, apparently to orient their sex differentiation in favour of male (Adoukonou-Sagbadja et al., 2006). In a trial in Nigeria, whole fonio grain could replace 100% of maize grain in broiler diets, resulting in better performance (growth and feed:gain ratio) (Ukim et al., 2013).


No information seems available in the international literature on the use of fonio grain in rabbit feeding (2019). However, as shown in the previous sections, fonio is safely used, and much appreciated, by humans and occasionally by poultry. In Nigeria, a trial with black fonio grain (Digitaria iburua) yielded good results when it was used to replace maize grain in growing rabbit rations (Oke et al., 2016). It can thus be considered that white fonio grain is perfectly usable in rabbit feeding. In rabbit diets, fonio grain will be considered mainly as a source of energy, associated a moderate protein content and a high content in methionine. Because rabbits need fibre in their ration, the dehulling and "whitening" processing steps used to produce fonio suitable for human consumption are not necessary for the use of fonio in rabbit feeding. As a result, fonio landraces that are particularly difficult to decorticate but having good drought resistance and/or important yield per hectare could be used to feed rabbits as paddy fonio without processing.

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

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 89.1 1.8 85.5 91.8 27  
Crude protein % DM 8.6 1.4 5.6 12 27  
Crude fibre % DM 6 3.4 1.4 8.6 6  
Ether extract % DM 3.9 1.2 0.6 6.5 17  
Ash % DM 3.9 1.8 1.5 7.5 24  
Insoluble ash % DM 6   1.8 10.1 2  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 23.1         *
Acid detergent fibre % DM 7.3         *
Lignin % DM 1.4         *
Starch (polarimetry) % DM 68       1  
Total sugars % DM 1       1  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.2       1 *
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Lysine g/16g N 2.5 0.4 1.9 3.1 6  
Threonine g/16g N 3.7 0.3 3.3 4.1 6  
Methionine g/16g N 5.6 1 4.3 7.4 7  
Cystine g/16g N 2.6 0.4 2 3.1 6  
Methionine+cystine g/16g N 8.2       1 *
Tryptophan g/16g N 1.4       1  
Isoleucine g/16g N 4.2 0.5 3.7 5.1 6  
Valine g/16g N 5.4 0.3 5.1 5.8 6  
Leucine g/16g N 9.9 0.7 9.3 11.3 6  
Phenylalanine g/16g N 5.8 0.7 5.1 6.9 6  
Tyrosine g/16g N 2.9 0.4 2.7 3.6 6  
Phenylalanine+tyrosine g/16g N 8.8       1 *
Histidine g/16g N 2.2 0.08 2.1 2.3 6  
Arginine g/16g N 3.6 0.9 2.1 4.7 6  
Alanine g/16g N 9 0.3 8.4 9.4 6  
Aspartic acid g/16g N 6.7 0.3 6.4 7.2 6  
Glutamic acid g/16g N 21.2 1.8 18.8 23.6 6  
Glycine g/16g N 3 0.5 2.3 3.8 6  
Serine g/16g N 5.3 0.4 5 5.9 6  
Proline g/16g N 6 0.6 5.3 7.1 6  
Fatty acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Myristic acid C14:0 % fatty acids 0.1       1  
Palmitic acid C16:0 % fatty acids 15.4 0.9 14.5 16.8 5  
Palmitoleic acid C16:1 % fatty acids 0.3 0.03 0.2 0.3 5  
Stearic acid C18:0 % fatty acids 3.2 0.5 2.8 4.1 5  
Oleic acid C18:1 % fatty acids 31.3 0.7 30.5 32.1 5  
Linoleic acid C18:2 % fatty acids 47 0.8 45.7 47.6 5  
Linolenic acid C18:3 % fatty acids 1.1 0.2 0.8 1.3 5  
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 0.8 0.9 0.09 2.2 8  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.5   0.6 3.2 4  
Magnesium g/kg DM 31.2       1  
Manganese mg/kg DM 8       1  
Zinc mg/kg DM 32 3 27 36 12  
Copper mg/kg DM 4       1  
Iron mg/kg DM 346 148 145 573 11  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 13.6         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 89.2         *
OM digestibility, ruminants % 92.1         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 70.9         *
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 13.5         *
MEn growing pig MJ/kg DM 13.2         *
NE growing pig MJ/kg DM 10.7         *
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 74.1         *
Nitrogen digestibility, growing pig % 75.6         *
Poultry nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
AMEn cockerel MJ/kg DM 13.3         *
AMEn broiler MJ/kg DM 13.1         *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 14.2         *

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


Bama, 1999; Carbiener et al., 1960; CIRAD, 1991; de Lumen et al., 1993; Echendu et al., 2009; Fliedel et al., 2004; Glew et al., 2013; Koreissi-Dembélé et al., 2013; Mongodin et al., 1965; Nzelibe et al., 2000; Ukim et al., 2013

Last updated on 26/07/2019 19:30:12

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 91.2 3.5 85.3 96.2 7  
Crude protein % DM 7.5 0.7 6.2 8.5 8  
Crude fibre % DM 0.7 0.4 0.4 1.5 8  
Ether extract % DM 1.8 0.9 0.3 3.2 8  
Ash % DM 2 1.2 0.3 4 9  
Insoluble ash % DM 2.2       1  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 8.4       1 *
Acid detergent fibre % DM 1.2       1 *
Lignin % DM 0.7       1 *
Starch (polarimetry) % DM 86.5       1  
Total sugars % DM 0.2       1  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.8   16.8 19.4 3 *
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Lysine g/16g N 2.5       1  
Threonine g/16g N 3.7       1  
Methionine g/16g N 5.6       1  
Cystine g/16g N 2.6       1  
Methionine+cystine g/16g N 8.2         *
Tryptophan g/16g N 1.4       1  
Isoleucine g/16g N 4.2       1  
Valine g/16g N 5.4       1  
Leucine g/16g N 9.9       1  
Phenylalanine g/16g N 5.8       1  
Tyrosine g/16g N 2.9       1  
Phenylalanine+tyrosine g/16g N 8.8         *
Histidine g/16g N 2.2       1  
Arginine g/16g N 3.6       1  
Alanine g/16g N 9       1  
Aspartic acid g/16g N 6.7       1  
Glutamic acid g/16g N 21.2       1  
Glycine g/16g N 3       1  
Serine g/16g N 5.3       1  
Proline g/16g N 6       1  
Fatty acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Myristic acid C14:0 % fatty acids 0.1       1  
Palmitic acid C16:0 % fatty acids 15.4       1  
Palmitoleic acid C16:1 % fatty acids 0.3       1  
Stearic acid C18:0 % fatty acids 3.2       1  
Oleic acid C18:1 % fatty acids 31.3       1  
Linoleic acid C18:2 % fatty acids 47       1  
Linolenic acid C18:3 % fatty acids 1.1       1  
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 0.2 0.07 0.08 0.3 6  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.6   0.9 2.5 4  
Magnesium g/kg DM 0.9   0.7 1.3 4  
Potassium g/kg DM 1.2 1 0.06 2.6 6  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.16   0.06 0.3 4  
Sulfur g/kg DM 1.6       1  
Manganese mg/kg DM 29   24 33 2  
Zinc mg/kg DM 27   7 42 4  
Copper mg/kg DM 4 50 2 177 15  
Iron mg/kg DM 76   12 134 4  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 13.7         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 90.6         *
OM digestibility, ruminants % 93.8         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 68.2         *
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 16.8         *
MEn growing pig MJ/kg DM 16.4         *
NE growing pig MJ/kg DM 13.3         *
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 94.1         *
Nitrogen digestibility, growing pig % 88.1         *
Poultry nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
AMEn cockerel MJ/kg DM 15.6         *
AMEn broiler MJ/kg DM 15.5         *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 15.5         *

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


CIRAD, 1991; CIRAD, 2008; Dastu et al., 2018; Fliedel et al., 2004; Irving et al., 1997; Jideani et al., 1993; Oyenuga, 1968; Sadiq et al., 2015; Temple et al., 1991

Last updated on 26/07/2019 23:13:10

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Hassoun P., Lebas F., 2019. Fonio (Digitaria exilis) grain. Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/228 Last updated on August 30, 2019, 11:04