Fonio (Digitaria exilis) as a staple food in Mali : an approach to upgrade nutritional value

N.M.L. Fanou-Fogny

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


With the increasing nutritional and health problems related to the global food crisis, the potential contribution of traditional foods to alleviation of poverty, nutritional deficiencies and health issues has been emphasized. Fonio (Digitaria exilis) is the most ancient West African cereal representing a key crop in food supply during crop shortfall periods. Less is known about the potential of fonio to contribute to nutrition and health in West Africa. The value chain approach for nutritional goals is a set of strategies through which values are added to products for improvement of nutrition among vulnerable groups, while creating benefits for stakeholders. Strategies in a value chain approach comprise agricultural strategies, processing, and consumer-oriented actions to enhance acceptability.

In this thesis we explored value chain strategies as possible solutions to existing nutritional problems among West African women, using fonio as product. To achieve this objective, specific research questions were investigated through the following cross-sectional studies: i) baseline assessment of nutrition (iron) status, iron intake and adequacy to define the nutritional context for operating the value chain approach; ii) assessment of socio-cultural acceptability of fonio as strategic entry point for consumer-oriented activities; iii) investigating processing (dephytinisation and fortification) as strategy for adding nutritional value to fonio.

Subjects involved were women of reproductive age randomly selected in Bamako, the capital city of Mali (108 women aged 15-49 y-old from 3-stage cluster sampling procedure), and Cotonou, the largest city of Benin (16 women aged 18-30 y-old from simple random sampling for an iron absorption study). Data collection included anthropometric and blood indicators measurement; dietary assessment based on a duplicate 24-h dietary recall, indirect and rapid assessment techniques; food ethnography focused on fonio, including an availability survey on market, a food consumption survey on the uses of fonio, and an acceptability survey based on a behavioral model; and an iron absorption study using stable isotopes.
consumption (68% consuming 1 to 3 times/month) and daily portion size of fonio (152 g) was relatively low as compared to other staples like rice and millet. Fonio consumption was strongly predicted by intention to consume (r = 0.78, P < 0.001), which was influenced by positive beliefs and attributes (β = 0.32, P < 0.05). Subjective norms, namely the opinion of the husband, the family and the neighborhood motivated intention to consume fonio (r = 0.26, P < 0.001). Perceived barriers such as time-consuming processing and lack of skills in cooking fonio had a significant interaction between intention to consume and fonio consumption (β = -0.72, P < 0.05). Exploring processing as strategy for adding nutritional value to fonio showed that dephytinisation with intrinsic wheat phytase reduced phytate-to-iron molar ratio from 23.7:1 to 2.7:1 and iron fortification decreased the molar ratio to 0.3:1. Dephytinisation with wheat phytase and fortification significantly increased iron absorption from 2.6% to 8.2% in fonio porridges.

Conclusions and recommendations
Dephytinisation with native wheat phytase and iron fortification appeared relevant for adding nutritional value to fonio. Nonetheless, the achievement in iron absorption might not be sufficient to consider fonio as an appropriate food for improving iron status through iron fortification. However, as staple food contributing to food security, consumer-oriented activities for enhancing fonio consumption should emphasize positive attitudes and opinions of men, family and neighbors, while strengthening skills of women in cooking good quality fonio meals. For the value chain approach to be relevant, the impact of value-added fonio products on smallholders’ income should be assessed, as well as the effect of the improved income on the nutritional outcome of vulnerable communities

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Kok, Frans, Promotor
  • Brouwer, Inge, Co-promotor
  • Dossa, R.A.M., Co-promotor
Award date22 Jun 2012
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789461732927
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • digitaria exilis
  • mali
  • iron
  • fortification
  • iron absorption
  • nutritional state
  • trace element deficiencies
  • nutritive value
  • women


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