Animal feed resources information system

Fonio (Digitaria exilis) forage

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).

Fonio crop residues like straw and chaff can be used as fodder and are often sold in markets for this purpose (Vodouhè et al., 2006). An important trait of fonio is its resistance to drought and its adaptation to climate change (Cruz et al., 2016).


Fonio is an ascending, free-tillering annual cereral 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, 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 and 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 (Vodhouhè 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 straw and chaff are used as fodder for cattle, sheep and goats in most arid zones where animal food sources are rare (Vodouhè et al., 2006). Fonio straw can be used to make matresses or in adobe production: it makes good insulating (low thermal conductivity) material, resistant to water erosion (Ouédraogo et al., 2019). Fonio straw can be burnt to produce potash. 

Fonio straw has been reported to be often abandoned though it could be a good organic fertiliser or fodder with the addition of urea. Fonio straw could have potential to produce compost in pits (Vall et al., 2008). 

In the Dominican Republic, farmers grow fonio with dual purpose of grass and grain: fonio is used as a pasture in marginal areas, where other cultivated grasses do not grow well (Morales-Payan et al., 2002).


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, 1999).

Worldwide production of fonio 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, 2017).



In semi-arid areas, fonio straw is stored after harvest to make provision of forage for livestock during the dry hot season (Kanwé et al., 2008).

Urea addition

Like other straws, fonio straw has high fibre content and poor nutritive quality. Adding urea may increase the amount of Non Protein N (NPN) and improve fonio straw digestibility. Fonio  straw is collected after threshing and put in a pit in two layers of 100 kg each added with 5% urea  (5 kg of urea (46%N) diluted in 50 litre of water). After spraying, the fonio straw is covered with a black plastic sheet and left for 3 weeks (Vall et al., 2008).

Forage management 


Fonio straw yield was reported to be 800 kg DM/ha in Burkina Faso

Harvest and straw production

Cutting height

Fonio plant can be cut in its 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).


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 et al., 2002).

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

In Africa, fonio straw from threshing is used as fodder for cattle, horses and donkeys (Cruz et al., 2016; Portères, 1955). In the Dominican Republic, fonio is used as a pasture in marginal areas, where other cultivated grasses do not grow well (Morales-Payan et al., 2002).

Fonio straw is much more valued in semi-arid areas for fodder. In sub-humid areas it is often left over the threshing are (Vall et al., 2007)

Fonio straw was reported to be appreciated and readily consumed by livestock animals (Rançon, 1824 cited by Portères, 1955).

In Burkina Faso, the DM intake of Djallonké sheep fed on Fonio straw treated with urea or not was respectively 44 and 42 g/kg BW0.75 and the DM digestibilities were 59 and 53%. The DM intake values were close to those obtained with other cereal straws in this region whereas DM digestibility is high for such a material (Vall et al., 2008). These results suggest that fonio straw could be used as a source of forage for fattening animals or in drought periods with limited concentrate for maintenance purpose. Further investigations are needed.


Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)

Nile tilapia fingerlings were fed on fonio straw treated with urea in order to replace fishmeal. It was found that best growth and feed utilization indices were obtained at 30% fonio straw dietary inclusion thus making possible to save 18% protein from fishmeal with non protein nitrogen (Wade et al., 2005).

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 97.0 1
Crude protein % DM 5.4 1
Crude fibre % DM 30.1 1
Ether extract % DM 1.7 1
Ash % DM 7.0 1
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.1 *

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


Hartley et al., 1938

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:13

Datasheet citation 

DATASHEET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT QUOTE. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/460 Last updated on April 2, 2019, 14:43