At the 2019 Summer Fancy Food Show, I walked around a corner and saw a huge sign with Africa on it. Obviously, I went straight to that booth to see what they were tasting. It was fonio (pronounced phone-yo - that's my version of sound-spelling). I had no clue what it was, but I loved the grainy, nutty flavor. It is kind of similar to a couscous, but more flavor. I was immediately smitten. We had a few starts and stops, as the new packaging wasn't exactly finalized - and the price, after shipping, made me lose most of my margin. But, I wanted to carry it. Fast forward to June 2020 and it arrived on my doorstep. I'm still not making but a few cents on this one, but I feel it's an important product to carry. See more info below.
Fonio is a gluten-free, quick cooking, versatile grain that has been grown and revered across West Africa for over 5,000 years. Fonio is nutritionally dense, rich in important minerals and amino acids, and has a low glycemic index. The grain is tiny when raw but expands over 4x when cooked. It has a light, slightly nutty taste and takes on flavors and seasonings very well. Yolélé fonio cultivation supports smallholder farmers, combats the effects of climate change, and promotes biodiversity.
Yolélé's mission, as told on their website:
Yolélé is changing conditions for rural West African smallholder farmers. This population is among the world’s most vulnerable. Many young people seeking job opportunities simply leave – often to overcrowded cities where jobs are hard to find or risk their lives on the dangerous path towards Europe.
Simply buying more of West Africa’s oldest cereal grain helps to alleviate extreme poverty, but we’re going a step further to truly unlock opportunity and transform communities in the West African Sahel.
Our primary purpose is to invest in rural West African communities because, for many, the pathway out of extreme poverty is challenging.
Yolélé is changing those circumstances. We are creating an export market for ingredients grown by rural West Africans and removing the obstacles that stand between those smallholder farmers and an American market that’s hungry for new and exciting sources of nutrition.
Our solution is to maximize the dollars coming into farmers’ hands by removing limitations to their capacity to farm more abundantly and productively. Our vision is a network of smallholders stretching across West Africa. We also hope to grow the market for fonio in West Africa. We think it’s a shame that some West African countries rely on imported white rice as a staple food when this tremendously nutritious native grain is grown right at home.
Many of these rural West African communities have been hit hard by climate change – infrequent rainfall, extreme heat, and poor soil. Fonio addresses the impact of climate change by its very nature. Fonio’s deep roots allow it to grow with little water in dry soil.
But we aim to be more purposeful, growing fonio as part of a resilient, organic agricultural system that combats desertification. We hope to transform ecologic as well as economic reality so that rural West Africa doesn’t need to send its young people away for the chance to thrive.