An irregular record of plants and flowers
Name: Digitaria exilis/Digitaria iburua
History: Probably the oldest African cereal. For thousands of years West Africans have cultivated it across the dry savannas. This crop still remains important in areas scattered from Cape Verde to Lake Chad. In certain regions of Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Nigeria, for instance, it is either the staple or a major part of the diet. Each year West African farmers devote approximately 300,000 hectares to cultivating fonio, and the crop supplies food to 3-4 million people. It also formed part of the traditional bride price. Moreover, it is still held in such esteem that some communities continue to use it in ancestor worship. Despite its ancient heritage and widespread importance, knowledge of fonio’s evolution, origin, distribution, and genetic diversity remains scant even within West Africa itself. Part of the reason for this neglect is that the plant has been misunderstood by scientists and other decision makers. In English, it has usually been referred to as “hungry rice,” a misleading term originated by Europeans who knew little of the crop or the lives of those who used it.