The Russia-Ukraine war has pushed consumers to find alternative commodities to wheat. Among other cereals that could substitute for wheat is fonio. Fonio is naturally gluten-free and can be used for all your baking recipes including; bread, pancakes, cakes, doughnuts, and many more.
It's Been All About Wheat
According to statistics displayed on Statista, the average wheat consumption worldwide over the last half a decade is about 759.022 million tons, making this grain the second most widely grown and consumed cereal in the world.
A report published by the FAO reveals that "wheat bread accounts for 20% of the calories consumed by humans."
In the last 21 years, global wheat use grew by 34%. It is estimated that more than 70% of global wheat is used for food (baking, pastries, wheat meals), while 20% is meant for livestock feed and another 4% to 6% each for seed, industrial purposes, and other uses.
Though China is leading the top 10 wheat-producing countries, Russia and Ukraine together account for almost 30% of the global wheat production. In 2021 and 2022, China, the EU, India, and Russia were the top 4 regions that consumed the most wheat per capita.
So far, only eight countries in Sub-Sahara Africa, naming; Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; grow wheat. According to the FAO, per annum, more than 30 million tons of wheat are produced in Africa. This represents 1.7% of the wheat production at global levels.
Cereals represent 46% of the main staple in the average African diet. In the trade-year 2020/2021, Africa imported more than 50 million metric tons of wheat. In a recent Bloomberg Economic News' interview with the African Development Bank's lender's president; Mr. Akinwumi Adesina; it was unveiled that 'Wheat imports account for about 90% of Africa’s $4 billion trade with Russia and nearly half of the continent’s $4.5 billion trade with Ukraine.'
The impact of the Russia-Ukraine war is being felt economically with a massive shortage of wheat supply worldwide and Africa is said, as usual, to face acute food insecurity.
Organic Trade and Investments' CEO - Esther Ama Asante is calling small-scale growers from Africa to take opportunity of the current shortage of wheat and other commodities the Continent imports to develop the agribusiness sector.
"Instead of ramping up efforts to mobilize funds to import wheat and other commodities from other countries, Africa should look into developing its agriculture sector and focus more on growing ancient grains on a larger scale to avoid food crisis," she said.
Now It's Time For Fonio
Africa, and probably West Africa in particular, is home to a diversity of grains that the Continent of Africa and the rest of the world are gradually rediscovering amid the emergence of a global health crisis. Since 2017, OTI has been 'preaching' about the nutritious aspects, health benefits, and multi-purpose uses of Fonio.
OTI's CEO recalls the different campaigns the Company has run to accelerate the commercialization of the grain.
"We have held a webinar on Fonio, and attended food fairs to promote this superfood grain from West Africa."
While it may come as a challenge to grow wheat in some parts of Africa, it will be advantageous to venture into the cultivation of crops that are adaptable to the African weather.
Fonio is the most ancient superfood whole-grain cultivated from West Africa. The grain grows in dry climates (sandy soil) and does not require irrigation. With a mature time of 60-70 days, fonio remains the world's fastest maturing cereal and is traditionally prepared as a breakfast cereal or rice.
Fonio grain can also be used in green salads (as a quinoa substitute), serves as a side dish, is added to your stews, prepared as Fonio Jollof, or infused to supplement your superfood fruit, and veggie smoothies. In some parts of Ghana, Fonio grain is brewed to make local gluten-free beer.
The Difference Between Wheat and Fonio
Unlike wheat, which contains gluten, fonio is naturally 100% gluten-free, rich in zinc, calcium, and magnesium, and has a very low glycaemic index. Fonio controls diabetes, contains heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and methionine, and helps strengthen hair and nails.
Wheat Health Benefits
High in Carbohydrates
Good Source of Fiber (aids in digestion)
High in Nutrients (zinc, iron, manganese, magnesium)
Contains Antioxidants (ferulic acid, phytic acid, sulfur compounds)
Contains Vitamins (B)
Contains Gluten (People with a gluten allergy, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and celiac disease must avoid wheat).
Contrary to preconceived ideas, Fonio is versatile and can be prepared in different ways. Fonio flour is obtained by milling the grain.
Just like wheat flour, Fonio flour can be added to all kinds of flour-based recipes including; pies, pasta, spaghetti, cookies, bread, biscuits, doughnuts, white sauce, and many more.
Africa doesn't need to go through a food crisis when the Continent is blessed with all kinds of healthy ancient grains such as Bambara beans, millets, and other gluten-free cereals that could sustain its population for many years more to come, if only we believed in ourselves and valued what we already have.