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AT Activities

A Project to Revive
the Consumption of Fonio

Fonio, known as fundi or Hungry rice (Digitaria exilis and Digitaria ibura) is a grass originating from West Africa. Initially found growing wild in semi-arid areas, it is an extremely adaptable plant which places little demand on the climatic and soil conditions. A project of a women's group backed by the Malian Association for the Promotion of the Young (AMPJ) aims to revive the consumption of fonio.

Fonio grows up to 45cms in height and its seeds are characterized by their very small size. The growth cycle varies from 70 - 120 days, depending on the soil and the varieties grown. In the agricultural regions of the South of Mali it is principally grown by the women on their individual plots, although early varieties are also grown on collective plots as a stopgap between food crops.

The techniques used in fonio cropping in this area are simple: broadcast sowing after scratching the surface and weeding about 45 days after sowing.

The nutritional value of fonio is similar to that of millet / sorghum. The methionine content probably surpasses that of sorghum. As regards the socio-cultural aspect, the basic dish of fonio enjoys a certain level of prestige in local culinary/food customs. Its many uses in the art of cooking (porridge, gruel, couscous, etc.) as well as the choice of fonio dishes for religious and traditional ceremonies bear witness to this fact most eloquently.

As far as modern nutritional requirements are concerned, fonio is recommended as a substitution cereal in the diet of people suffering from diabetes. In spite of these considerable assets, fonio has, however, up until recently attracted very little attention.

As with other cereals, fonio must undergo alterations or modifications before it can be consumed. Because of the small size of the seeds, the first operations (threshing, husking) are very hard and are still carried out by hand. At this stage the risk of contamination by impurities (especially sand) is great.

Manual husking is done by crushing in the mortars. For urban consumers this dehusked product (untreated fonio) is available in the market. The traditional preparation of fonio dishes made from such a product require further secondary treatment by the housewife: crushing, cleaning, removing the sand and cooking.

The project of the AMPJ aims to diversify the diet of urban dwellers by producing precooked fonio. The semi-finished which is quick and simple to process could be a serious challenge to rice and pasta, which often are imported.

The project uses simple household equipment and materials available locally. The following utensils are required: mortars, bath (tubs), calabashes or gourds, improved cookers, steaming pots, sieves, matting, kitchen scales, bag sealing machines and small utensils (baskets, ladles, skimmers etc.).

To implement the project the following small working groups were formed for:

- supply of raw materials;
- production and packaging;

· marketing.

The project was designed to process 6 tons of raw fonio per year. The production of precooked fonio involves a number of operations, of which the principal ones are: sieving, crushing, washing, steam cooking, drying and packaging. All of these operations are carried out with the equipment and materials mentioned above and utilize techniques commonly used by the housewives.
Sieving: The aim is to remove unwanted material from the raw fonio before starting to crush or pound it. A household sieve normally used for making couscous from semolina serves this purpose.

Chrushing: The sieved raw fonio is then pounded in a mortar. This operation is, in fact, a supplementary husking to minimize the percentage of grains which are not dehusked in the raw fonio available commercially. Furthermore, a certain bleaching of the product takes place. Mortars and pestles are used for this operation.

Washing and refining: After the pounding, the fonio is washed thoroughly in large containers full of water. The object of this operation is cleaning and purification. A series of 3 washes (minimum) are carried out combined with settling-out and decanting to separate off fine sands. The equipment consists of gourds and bathtubs.

This is the most delicate operation of the whole process. It requires great care, because the success of this particular job is paramount in determining the quality of the final product.

Straining: Washing is followed by straining, which entails the removal of excess water. This is done by filling bags made of clean cloth with about 5 kgs of the washed fonio. These bags are closed and then whirled round manually (centrifugation) to remove the surplus water in a simple manner.

Steam cooking: This consists of steaming the fonio which has been properly cleaned (free of sand and other impurities) and strained. This is carried out in a home-made device used for couscous, in three phases with two additions of water in between.

Drying For steaming purposes, precooked fonio must be dried. The object of this operation is to make the product preservable. Drying is best done in the open air on mats covered with clean linen. Drying tests in a shell drier have not produced satisfactory results. After drying the product is sieved to ensure an even gram size.

Packaging: The precooked fonio is packed in airtight, thermally-sealed l-kg plastic bags.

Preparation of precooked fonio: All of the uses of untreated fonio for cooking apply to precooked fonio The latter. however is far more convenient for the urban housewife due to the simplicity of the final preparation. The details of the processing stage depend on the type of dish being finally prepared. As a general rule, no more than 10 to 15 minutes are usually required.

Marketing: The marketing of precooked fonio has not been systematically evaluated. At the present time, the output is marketed by orders sent via the AMPJ, the supervising body.

Nevertheless, precooked fonio offers distinct advantages for the consumer compared to the untreated product available on the market.

The chief advantages are:

- higher quality product without sand and other impurities;

- enormous saving in preparation time, no pounding or cleaning; - simple final preparation, rapid cooking;

- ability to prepare all fonio dishes with this precooked product.

The current price varies between 500 and 550 CFA Francs per kg (about 3 - 3.30 DM). In comparison, the Arabic Couscous, which is in direct competition with precooked fonio, is sold on the Bamako market at prices ranging between 650 and 750 CFA Francs (3.94 - 4.55 DM). Bilateral contacts between AMPJ and the IDF (International Development Foundation) are aiming to introduce the product into Senegal. A considerable contribution will have been achieved towards promoting a local cereal.

Washing and separating off fine sand are the most fastidious operations in the whole transformation process and should be reviewed.

Siaka Kon

Appropriate Solutions for Hospital Technology

Stuttgart - FAKT, the Stuttgart-based Association for Appropriate Technology, has expanded its services in the field of hospital technology and management. As pointed out in the FAKT newsletter Focus, FAKT now offers assistance in many different forms, including promotion on maintenance systems, planning of training programmes, research into and development of appropriate medical equipment, and a question-and-answer service for local technicians.

FAKT recalls surveys carried out by the WHO, on the basis of which more than half of the medical and related equipment in Third World hospitals is estimated to be out of order. This reduces the efficiency of medical services and results in enormous wastage of financial and physical resources.

According to FAKT, the inefficiency of health services in Southern countries is not only due to home-made causes. To a large extent it has been imported, like the technical equipment itself. The "patient Hospital Technology needs treatment for various disorders, including over sophisticated appliances, an uncoordinated variety of makes and models, and inexperienced handling".

Contact address:
FAKT; Gheidestrasse 43,
D-7000 Stuttgart
Fax: + 49 7111600608
Phone: + 49 71123530
Telex: +723557 a ddws d

The $ 38.46 10 m3 Kiln

Fuel wood used for firing traditional pottery may represent as much as 10 % of the wood use in Nepal. A simple kiln for firing traditional unglazed pottery, adapted from old systems, has been field-tested in rural areas for the past three years. It burns wood or cow dung, and has the possibility of using other biomass.

Results show that compared to traditional firing, the kiln saves up to 30 % fuel, and reduces breakage up to 30 %. Users report increased earnings. The cost of $ 38.46 is based on a 3 meter diameter kiln with about 10 cubic meter capacity, constructed from fired red bricks. Smaller sizes work equally well.

Traditional unglazed terracotta pottery is about the same the world over: it is fired from 800-1000°C, is sometimes coated with a thin layer of watertight vitrified slip (terra sigillata), and is porous. It is so cheap that it is often thrown away after one use. Even in the 1990's, when it is considered an almost extinct craft, water jars, cooking and storage pots are produced in surprisingly large quantities in developing countries, sometimes with fuel efficiency, but more often using far more fuel than necessary.

When Ceramics Promotion Project (CPP) - a joint project of GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit) and His Majesty's Government of Nepal - started to work with rural potters, firing loss was identified as one of the critical areas to improve. Although traditional potters may number over 20,000 in Nepal alone, they are not often considered as a major user of fuel.

In fact, if each potter is assumed to fire 10 times per year, this equals 200,000 firings all over Nepal. Conservatively, at an average of 150 kg pottery and 100 kg wood per firing, the total use of wood (or equivalent) would be up to 20,000 Mtons, or 10 % of the total annual wood usage in Nepal.

The total energy usage might be 100 kg x 2700 kcal x 200,000 firings, or 54,000,000,000 kcal per year. If we assume that wood costs Rsl/kg, then the value is Rs 20,000,000/- per year. 30 % energy savings would save 6,600 Mtons of firewood per year.

The kiln developed by CPP has a very simple innovation: it is possible to control the preheating stages of firing, which is when most explosions and cracking occur from too rapid increase of temperature. This principle is not new, but is often unknown to traditional potters.

Because less heat is lost due to better insulation, the fuel savings are up to 30 % less than traditional, and the preheating stage of firing - where most products are lost if temperature increases too fast - can be controlled. If the firemaster does his job correctly, 95 % success rate is common. We find that on the average, traditional potters only have a 65 % success rate, where the circular kiln averages 86 % success.