Fonio: A Lost but Found Climate Crisis West African Grain

Many natural ingredients originate from the African continent. Some, like shea butter, are already well established. Many, like baobab, moringa and Fonio are becoming popular because of their high nutrient content. This seems like a great exporting opportunity, unfortunately exporters in developing countries face many difficulties, such as regulations and distribution.

Fonio: Super grain
Fonio: Super grain

On the other hand, Multinational corporations generally take one approach to agricultural development in Africa. They encourage farmers to grow high-yield varieties of crops, mostly developed in the U.S. and Europe, using expensive seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. In many cases, the crops fail to thrive due to the differences in climates and soils. Overall, these efforts rarely decrease hunger or make farmers more financially secure.

Fonio An Indigenous African Grain

Although a seed, Fonio is often classified and used as a grain. It is a type of millet that has been cultivated for thousands of years by west Africans across the dry savannas. Despite its unpopularity, it still remains important in certain regions of Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Nigeria. Each year West African farmers devote approximately 300,000 hectares to cultivation.

A member of the millet family, fonio is divided into two main types:

  • Digitaria iburua. This white grain has black or brown spikelet and grows mainly in parts of Nigeria, Togo, and Benin. White fonio is the most widely consumed.
  • Digitaria exilis. This white grain grows from Senegal to Chad, as well as in central Nigeria. It’s the most commonly eaten of the two varieties and more readily available outside Africa.

Misunderstood as the hungry rice.

Fonio has many names. In Nigeria it is called Acha. Growing up, we only ate Acha when there was scarcity of rice or oats. It was never the preferred choice. Part of the reason for this neglect is that the plant has been misunderstood by scientists and other decision makers. It is usually referred to as “hungry rice,” in many European countries. Despite its ancient heritage and importance, knowledge of fonio’s evolution, origin, distribution, and genetic diversity remains scant even within West Africa. The crop has received but a fraction of the attention accorded to sorghum, pearl millet, and maize, and a mere trifle considering its importance in the rural economy and its potential for increasing the food supply.

Significance of Fonio

  • Fonio has been lauded by many as a “climate crisis-ready crop,” a superfood replacement for quinoa and a promising way to support smallholder farmers in West Africa.
  • Rich in heritage and full of potential, millets are a sustainable, nutritious and under-valued food source.
  • In regions aggravated by climate change with nutrient-deficient soils or drought conditions where little can grow, fonio flourishes and helps preserve biodiversity, offering hope in the face of the changing climate.
  •  Naturally gluten-free, fonio is a great option for those with Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.
  • For thousands of years, it has been cultivated without fertilizer and pesticides. That makes it easy to grow it organically, without extra cost for the farmers.
  • For thousands of years, it has been cultivated without fertilizer and pesticides. That makes it easy to grow it organically, without extra cost for the farmers.

The United Nations General Assembly at its 75th session in March 2021 declared 2023 the International Year of Millets (IYM 2023). 

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggests that Fonio has the highest calcium content of all grains. This may make it a good choice for those who don’t consume dairy, such as vegans or individuals with lactose intolerance. The celebration of the #IYM2023 will be an opportunity to raise awareness of, and direct policy attention to the nutritional and health benefits of millets and their suitability for cultivation under adverse and changing climatic conditions. The year will also promote the sustainable production of millets, while highlighting their potential to provide new sustainable market opportunities for producers.

Despite being rich in nutrients and cultural heritage, Fonio has been often undervalued. Not only does this crop deserve much greater recognition, but it also has a big future in the grain- cereal industry. This creates a trade product with opportunities for export and a better income locally.

We specialize in the trade, marketing, acquisition, and sale of agricultural-related assets including grains, nuts, and spices.

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Agritourism Allows Farmers To Diversify and Has Potential Benefits for Rural Communities

Lagos is considered to have the largest economic activity; Benin city is known for its culture that is a solemn reverence for the past while Plateau State is described as “The Home of Peace and Tourism”. With natural formations of rocks, hills and waterfalls, it derives its name from the Jos Plateau. There is an abundance of things that makes Jos a dream destination, and one of these is the exotic fruits and vegetables that grow there due to the city’s climate. Strawberry is one of the exotic fruits grown in Jos, it’s now the most important produce that shapes the economic power of the people of Chaha community. Chaha is located at the outskirts of Vom in Jos South LGA of Plateau State. Nigerian Strawberry Farmer

Strawberries do not like heat

Higher altitude gives Jos a near-temperate climate and influences growth and productivity of fruit trees much more than any other factor which affects the fruit plants. Strawberry production runs from January through March, and with oversupply at the peak of production comes glut. This raises concern for the farmers because whatever happens, whether there are good buyers or not, harvest of the fruit cannot be delayed. Harvest is usually done in the early hours of the morning and by 8:00 AM, you are sure to find them along the highways hawked by women hoping to make as much as what the farmer gets per kilogram at the farm gate. These women are sometimes the only hope of farmers who do not have access to market for their produce or facilities to store them for even a few days. Strawberries are highly perishable, with no cold storage facilities, the value of post-harvest loss is unquantifiable.  As the internet becomes more accessible, producers are able to connect with consumers from around the country, and some are able to offer same day delivery to major Nigerian cities. However, with limited flights out of Jos, many suppliers are unable to meet the very growing demand.

Resilience and passion are driving change.

The demand for exotic fruits has increased globally, especially since the pandemic started, and consumers are on the lookout for fruits and vegetables that will provide them with beneficial nutrients.

The city of Jos has the potential to drive opportunities within the agricultural sector and young people are leading this change. HRH Farms acquired a previously abandoned fifty-year-old orchard in Plateau State and has been bringing it back to life with the cultivation of exotic fruits like grape, strawberry, Passion fruit, Jackfruit, Soursop & oil Palm. Aminu Bappa an indigene of Plateau State and founder of HRH farms has spent so many resources to harness the untapped opportunities of agriculture and agritourism. With natural formations of rocks, hills and waterfalls, including an abundance of unexploited mineral reserves, wildlife and arable land, many young farmers like Aminu, are working to enhance linkages between tourism and sustainable farming. Agritourism comes with economic benefits for travelers and farmers.

In fact, it is necessary for the survival of some small farms as it diversifies their income streams, allowing them to earn money outside of their regular production season. Tourism and agriculture are important contributors to the development of local economies. Though insecurity has hindered farming activities and food production, there is a great necessity to bring out a new concept that can both promote the tourism, horticulture sectors and ultimately improve the economic condition of farmers in plateau state.

We specialize in the trade, marketing, acquisition, and sale of agricultural-related assets including grains, nuts, and spices.

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Global Flavors: Chili Pepper is the Center of the Spice Food Trends

The spicy food trend is about more than appealing to personal taste; it’s about offering a bold option for your most fearless consumers. It is being driven by consumers’ growing interest in international flavors, which some experts attribute to a collective desire for new experiences in the wake of COVID lockdowns. Spicy foods are becoming progressively more popular, those who can ‘handle the heat’ wear their tolerance like a badge of honor.

African Bird Eye chili
African Birds eye Chili Pepper

Describing the flavor of a chili pepper is challenging because there are over 200 varieties of chili peppers, and each variety has its own unique flavor (ranging from sweet to smokey).

Sweet – Typically the larger chili pepper varieties. These tend to be the mildest.

Hotness – Typically the smaller chili pepper varieties. These tend to be the hottest.

Why Do People Like Heat?

Chili peppers contain a compound called capsaicin and this compound is what causes your mouth to burn when you eat one. When you ingest capsaicin, the pain receptors in your brain are triggered to signal danger and endorphins are released (these are your ‘happy hormones’). Some theorize that people who like spicy food become ‘hooked’ on it because of this hormonal rush. Evidence also suggests that people may like spicy food because they’re attracted to the thrill that comes from feeling like they’re in danger when they know that they’re not actually in any danger at all (like the feeling you get when you ride a roller coaster or watch a scary movie).

How is Heat Measured?

The most common unit of measurement for heat in chilis and peppers is Scoville Heat Units (SHU). With peppers ranging from 0 to 2,000,000 SHUs, this scale is exact and great for food production and testing, albeit a bit complicated. As spicy foods increase in popularity, so do specific flavors. Consumers are not just selecting products based on heat level; now, they prefer specific flavors such as Cayenne, jalapeno, and habanero. Industry trends suggest that heat will become less of a focus for brands; meanwhile, products with complex chili pepper flavors will take center stage to appeal to a larger demographic.

Quality, Sourcing & Safety

For food manufacturers, the biggest challenge that arises when handling chili peppers is consistency.  It is imperative to have a reliable supplier for chili peppers to ensure product consistency in heat and flavor. Sourcing from different suppliers may result in the product being unpredictable. Weather variables, sourcing, processing techniques, and storage conditions all affect the heat and flavor of chili peppers, so do your research before choosing a supplier.

The Velvette Company is dedicated to sourcing locally from farmers. We verify that our suppliers follow strict production, quality assurance and food safety processes that ensure pure products free of contaminants, adulterants, and a flavorful addition to your favorite dishes. Due to the complexity of the spice supply chain, it is very important that we have a formal vetting process for all our suppliers.

When it comes to African chilies there’s always one burning question on everyone’s minds: “How hot is ‘hot’?

We specialize in the trade, marketing, acquisition, and sale of agricultural-related assets including grains, nuts, and spices.

Email: or send us a WhatsApp message.

2023: A year of positive new beginnings

As we begin a new year, I have been reflecting so much on 2022 and I am very optimistic that 2023 will come with some gain realization.

I have been traveling around major cities in America since November and meeting with buyers of commodities such as Hibiscus flower, Ginger and Moringa. Cities around the world have melting pots, and there are several foods you find in cities like New York that can be traced to other cultures. New York is a warm, friendly and culturally diverse city. The cultural diversity in New York is so common that you can notice it just by walking around. From the food to the clothing stores, you will be sure to see people of different ethnic backgrounds. As a result of more than 400 years of immigrant history, America has become the richest gastronomy in the world. From every immigrant culture came new foods and new ways to cook it, all the while maintaining a revered connection to the way it was done back in the old country.

Telling Farm Stories in Africa

It is somewhat different for West African cuisines, if you want to grab cup of Kunu (is a non-alcoholic Nigerian beverageor a plate of Jollof rice you will have to walk into an African restaurant. How do we introduce West African flavors to a wider palate? One way is to incorporate them into everyday foods through West African-style simmer sauces, spices, seasonings, herbs and whole foods.

This year, I will be working with small scale food processors who are not recycling the same set of flavors consumers have been having for a hundred years. Something exciting, bold, providing a new experience, and redefining what is made in Africa. While I am pushing for trade in more processed commodities, I will continue trading raw commodities and supporting startups in their market expansion and fundraising drive. I closed 2022 with contracts to be fulfilled in the first quarter of this year. I am lucky and blessed to have a network of great suppliers in Nigeria, Ghana and Benin but access to trade finance and compliance remains a huge challenge. Despite a string of financial crises and steepness in the global economy, there has been a lot of success in the fundraising drive for Africa in the last quarter of 2022.

  • In November, the IFC launched a new $225 million platform to strengthen venture capital ecosystems and invest in early-stage companies addressing development challenges through technological innovations in climate, health care, education, agriculture, e-commerce, and other sectors in Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, and Pakistan.
  • In December, ADF, the concessional window of the African Development Bank Group, providing grants and soft loans to the continent’s low-income countries agreed to commit a total package of $8.9 billion to its 2023 to 2025 financing cycle. It is a strong endorsement of the African Development Fund and its impact in tackling the continent’s multiple development needs, including recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, the effects of climate change, fragility, debt, and economic vulnerabilities.
  • Also in December, Ventures Platform Fund a pan-African VC firm championing the next generation of African technology entrepreneurs, announced the final close of its early-stage and intercontinental fund, at $46M.

I am optimistic that the fund will trickle down to the entrepreneurs working at the grassroot to support farmers. Smallholder farmers are the foundation for food security, any technology that doesn’t get to them only enriches the wealthy and increases the wealth-poverty gap.

Wishing you a happy new year filled with positivity, love and happiness.