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Fonio (Digitaria exilis) forage


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 tiny and husked 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. (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 crop residues like straw and chaff are used as fodder and are often sold in markets for this purpose (Vodouhè et al., 2006).


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).


In arid and semi-arid regions of West Africa where livestock feeds resources are rare, fonio straw is used as fodder for cattle, sheep, goats, horses and donkeys (Vodouhè et al., 2006; Adoukonou-Sagbadja et al., 2006; Cruz et al., 2016; Karbo et al., 2002Nzelibe et al., 2000). In sub-humid areas, hoewever, fonio straw is often left to rot after threshing, or burned (Vall et al., 2008; Akinfemi, 2012; Mbahi et al., 2017). 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 straw can be used to make mattresses or in adobe production. It is a good insulating material due to its low thermal conductivity, and it is resistant to water erosion (Ouédraogo et al., 2019). Fonio straw can be burned to produce potash. Fonio straw could be a good organic fertiliser and could have potential to produce compost in pits (Vall et al., 2008). Two other fibrous residues of fonio crop are the husks and the bran. Fonio husks are usually discarded or burned, and it has been proposed that they can be used in the building industry or burned to make amorphous silica (Ndububa et al., 2016; Shamle et al, 2014). There are indirect reports that fonio bran, like other cereal brans, is used to feed poultry (Sanou et al., 2018) and some vendors propose it for sale as a livestock feed.


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 (FAO, 2019). As the straw/grain production ratio is about 3-4/1 (Kwon-Ndung et al., 2004), it can be estimated that about 2-3 million t of fonio straw are available each year.



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 is of poor nutritive value. Adding urea may increase the amount of non-protein N and improve its 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 


The yield of fonio straw was reported to be comprised between 400 and 1600 kg/ha in Burkina Faso. The average yield was 966 kg DM/ha without organic fertilization and 1090 kg/ha with organic fertilization (Vall et al., 2008).

Harvest and straw production

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 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 

Fonio straw, like other cereal straws, has a low nutritive value, with a protein content about 6% DM and a high amount of fibre (crude fibre > 30% DM).


Even though fonio straw is widely available in West Africa and commonly used for fodder in arid and semi-arid regions, information about its use in ruminants remains limited. Observers have noted in the past that fonio straw was appreciated and readily consumed by livestock animals (Rançon, 1895 cited by Portères, 1955), but recent works have been less positive. In Ghana, farmers claimed that fonio straw was not particularly relished by ruminants particularly if it had been beaten by rain. The ratoons left after harvest were the fonio crop residue preferred by ruminants. The lower palatability of fonio straw after rain could be due to fungal growth and bad odours, in addition to physical characteristics of the straw. In a preference study, Djallonké lambs significantly preferred rice straw to fonio straw, and it was recommended that livestock may be trained to develop appetite for fonio straw. An alternative could be to harvest fonio at pre-flowering stage and processed it into hay to improve intake by sheep (Karbo et al., 2002).

There have been attempts to increase the nutritive value of fonio straw for ruminants. In Ghana, the treatement of fonio straw with urea (4%) increased the nitrogen content, but resulted in a drastic decrease in voluntary intake by Djallonké lambs when compared to untreated fonio straw, which would cancel the benefits of the urea treatment (Karbo et al., 2002). Another experiment in Burkina Faso was more favourable: the DM intake of Djallonké sheep fed on Fonio straw treated with urea (5%) or not was respectively 44 and 42 g/kg LW0.75. The in vivo DM digestibility of treated straw (59%) was higher than that of untreated straw (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.

The fermentation of fonio straw with several species of Pleurotus fungi increased the protein content (from 6 to 8%), decresed the crude fibre content (from 35 to 31% DM), whereas ME estimated by the gas production method increased from 7.3 to 8.1 MJ/kg DM (Akinfemi, 2012).


Fonio straw

No information seems available in the literature of the use of this straw in rabbit feeding. However, since it is consumed safely by ruminants, it can be assumed that fonio straw is usable in rabbit feeding just like other cereal straws, mostly as source of fibre. Fungi-treated fonio straw (Akinfemi, 2012) has a higher protein content and could be valuable for rabbits nutrition but it should be tested with growing rabbits before practical use.

Fonio husks and bran

No information seems available in the literature of the use of fonio husks and bran in rabbit feeding. Fonio husks are rich in fibre and minerals and could be considered in rabbit diets as a source of fibre. Little is known about fonio bran, but, if its composition is close to wheat bran and maize, which are largely used in rabbit rations, this bran could be also used for rabbits. In both cases, feeding trials with rabbits would be necessary before recommending them widely.


Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)

Nile tilapia fingerlings were fed on fonio straw treated with urea in order to replace fish meal. 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 fish meal 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

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 94.1 4.4 90.1 97 5  
Crude protein % DM 5.6   5 6.3 4  
Crude fibre % DM 32.7   30.1 35.3 2  
Ether extract % DM 1.4   0.6 2 3  
Ash % DM 6.6   6 7 4  
Insoluble ash % DM 3         *
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 67.2   60.1 68.2 2 *
Acid detergent fibre % DM 44.7         *
Lignin % DM 6.6       1 *
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.2         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 2.9       1  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 0.7       1  
Magnesium g/kg DM 4.2       1  
Potassium g/kg DM 15.5       1  
Zinc mg/kg DM 23       1  
Copper mg/kg DM 4       1  
Iron mg/kg DM 2903       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 7.2         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 48.1         *
OM digestibility, ruminants % 51.9         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 25         *
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 60          
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 6.8         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 3.4         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 37.2         *

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


Akinfemi, 2012; Hartley et al., 1938; Karbo et al., 2002; Mbahi et al., 2017; Vall et al., 2008

Last updated on 26/07/2019 10:01:49

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Hassoun P., Lebas F., 2019. Fonio (Digitaria exilis) forage. Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/460 Last updated on August 30, 2019, 11:43