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Africa | Millet

The growing millet does not fear the sun.Acholi* proverb

Millet, sorghum and cassava (or manioc) are important staples in Africa. Mainly grown by small-holder farmers in environments with limited water and no fertilizers, they are seen as "poor people's crops."

Pearl millet was domesticated in what is now the heart of the Sahara over 4,000 years ago and spread to East Africa about 2,000 years ago. Although mainly starchy, it is a “high-energy” cereal that contains at least nine percent protein, and has none of sorghum’s digestibility problems.

Both millet and sorghum may be boiled, ground (for porridges) and popped (for snacks). Their flour is used to bake unfermented flatbreads. Sorghum can be malted like barley for beer, and millet steam-cooked for couscous.

Cassava/manioc was brought from South America to Africa by Portuguese explorers. The third-largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world, it is a major staple in Central and West Africa. Cultivated for its starchy tuberous root, it does well in poor soils with low rainfall and can be harvested as required, which allows it to act as a famine reserve.

The soft-boiled root can replace boiled potatoes or made into purées, dumplings, soups and stews, or deep-fried after boiling or steaming. Tapioca and foufou are made from the cassava root flour.

Sorghum was eaten in Egypt more than 4,000 years ago. The world's fifth major crop, it matures quickly and thrives on very arid sites; it has the highest yield of food energy per human or mechanical energy expended. While predominantly starchy, sorghum’s protein content compares to that of wheat and maize, but sorghum is harder to process into an edible form.


* The Acholi people inhabit northern Uganda and southern Sudan.



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