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Researchers urge south-western farmers to cultivate Fonio

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Researchers in the Food Science and Engineering department of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology in the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, have admonished farmers in the South Western part of Nigeria to consider planting of Fonio, known in some quarters as hungry rice or acha in Hausa, as a way of increasing their economic gains.

Led by Dr. Grace Babarinde, the group of researchers, at a community training programme held in Ikoyi-Ile, headquarters of Orire Local Government Area of Oyo State,  said apart from the economic gains of Fonio, Digitaria iburua, it also contains some nutrients which are useful for the body, as well as amino acid which other cereals do not have.

According to the group which included Dr. James Adeyanju, Dr. Kehinde Ogunleye and Mrs Grace Adegbola, Fonio grains are rich in essential amino acids needed for body growth, tissue functions and repairs such as methionine and cysteine, two human-vital amino acids that are almost deficient in the major cereals like sorghum, rice, wheat or barley.

A white acha variety contains much more sulphur than other cereals and they are also mainly concentrated in the grain. Methionine, which is built up with sulphur, is accumulated in fonio twice the amount compared to corn or millet and three times compared to rice.

Babarinde who was lead speaker at the seminar added that Methionine is an antioxidant used by the body to neutralize and prevent damage by highly charged, unstable molecules known as free radicals that are cancer causing agent.

Acha was said to also contain the B complex vitamins especially thiamine and nicotinic acid. Vitamins are essential organic molecules needed in very small amounts for cellular metabolism.

Amino acids help produce antibodies, making them an important part of our immune system. They are involved in collagen formation and have the added function of helping the liver metabolize fats. They serve as antioxidant that our bodies make use of to neutralize and prevent damage by highly charged, unstable molecules known as free radicals. Essential amino acids stabilize blood sugar in the body and are necessary for the formation of tooth enamel, collagen and elastin, a substance that contributes to muscle, skin and tendon flexibility.

Speaking on the various food items that Acha can be turned to, she said used in breads, desserts or even spaghetti or pasta production. Boiled fonio is generally consumed with vegetable stew, fish or meat. Products developed from acha in this research are porridges (like oat used as breakfast), tuwo, chinchin, peanut, doughnut, and eba.

On its benefits, the group of researchers discovered that it is rich in energy, iron, aids digestion and cardiovascular function, good for diabetics, gluten-free diet, an excellent meal for weight loss, good for the skin and also hair formation.

Other benefits of Fonio include:

—  It aids digestion and helps in bowel movements and prevents constipation

—  Consuming whole grain reduces risk of cardio vascular disorders including heart disease and stroke.

—  The bran and germ of fonio are rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients which helps to keep our heart healthy.

—  Fonio has low glycemic index. It is absorbed in body slowly and thus effect on blood sugar is gradual and therefore good for diabetic patients.

—  Methionine has anti-aging effect on our skin and aids in reducing signs of aging.

—  Fonio provides body with essential mineral; chromium and sulphur containing amino acids which reduce inflammation and diabetes.