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Fonio grains displayed in the palm of hands.

Fonio is a small and very robust grain that is easy to grow, especially in poor soils, and is resistant to both drought and periods of heavy rain.

| Return to the May 16, 2012 issue of eNews |

Small Investments Yield Large Returns

By Nikki Massie

Maimouna Bore is a farmer in the Segou Region of Mali who grows a traditional crop called fonio.

Although once out of fashion, farmers in Mali are beginning to show renewed interest in fonio. It is a small and very robust grain that is easy to grow, especially in poor soils, and is resistant to both drought and periods of heavy rain. It is an excellent source of protein, safe for diabetic consumption and matures quickly, providing a much needed food source while other crops are still in the ground.

So why aren’t more farmers in Mali growing fonio?

One of the reasons is that fonio is an extremely time consuming grain to process. It is often women who end up doing the processing and, by hand, it can take up to 15 days for one woman to separate and husk a bag of fonio, leaving many farmers reluctant to grow the crop, despite its potential to improve household food security and nutrition.

Fonio Husking Machine

Husking machines, like this one, allow farmers to husk fonio in hours instead of days.

In 2008, Lutheran World Relief began working with a federation of women fonio producers called the Association Benkadi Ton. The project focused on business skill development and capacity building, which in turn allowed the women to access credit and purchase separating and husking machines. Now one woman can process a bag of fonio in just 1-2 hours.

This simple piece of technology paved the way for other major improvements. Women are spending more time on other tasks and men are devoting their efforts to cultivating and replicating improved seed varieties.

And word is spreading. “The project has been so successful that many other villages want to take part,” says Maimouna. What started as one association of fonio producers is now 20 and from all indicators, their success is only just beginning.

For these women, a native crop held the key to a more secure future. With simple, smart investments to make growing this traditional grain more feasible, women are earning more income and improving dietary options and household food security.

Nikki Massie is LWR’s Staff Writer.

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