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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
they take only 70-75 days from planting to harvest (most, however, require 90-130 days). Commonly, farmers use these fast-maturing guinea millets to fill in any gaps in their fields of sorghum, maize, or other grains. This allows them to get a full harvest from those fields.3 To achieve truly quick growth, however, a rich and well-drained soil is required.
Guinea millet deserves recognition and attention from scientists and others interested in helping food production and agriculture across West Africa. Despite its current obscurity, it just might have a big future both there and in other regions.
Emmer (Triticum dicoccum) is not strictly African; it is a wheat that originated in the Near East. Indeed, it was one of the first cereals ever domesticated4 and was part of the early agriculture of the Fertile Crescent. Farmers had it in fields perhaps as far back as 10,000 years ago. For several thousand years it remained a major cereal throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Then people switched to durum wheat—the type now used worldwide to make spaghetti, macaroni, and other pastas. In fact, durum wheat (Triticum turgidum var. durum) probably originated from emmer by mutation. Farmers preferred it because its grain was free-threshing (the seed fell out of its husk quite easily), and during the past 2,000 years or so the older form, emmer, became an abandoned waif.
Despite its Middle Eastern origin, emmer nonetheless has an ancient African heritage. It reached Ethiopia probably 5,000 years ago, perhaps more, and it survives there to this day.5 Whereas it virtually disappeared elsewhere, emmer comprises almost 7 percent of Ethiopia's entire wheat production. Even in what is a major, modern, wheat-growing region, it remains important. Indeed, far from abandoning it, farmers in Ethiopia's highlands have over the last 40 years increased the percentage of emmer that they grow.6
Emmer, locally known as aja, is used in various ways. Some is ground into a flour and baked into a special bread (kita). Some is crushed and cooked with milk or water to make a porridge (genfo). And some is mixed with boiling water and butter to produce a gruel. With emmer's high protein content and smooth, easily digested starch, the gruel is especially favored by invalids and nursing mothers.
Together with two-rowed barley (see page 245) and einkorn (Triticum monococcum). which, like emmer, is a predecessor of modern wheat.
It also survives as a crop in a small way in Yugoslavia, India, Turkey, Germany (Bavaria), France, and other countries. Information from J. Harlan.