- Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam is telling the world about the 5,000 year old "miracle grain"
- He believes that exporting fonio could be the key to transforming the economy of the Sahel
(CNN)As a child, Pierre Thiam didn't think there was anything extraordinary about fonio; a tiny-grained cereal he often ate on summer vacations at his grandparents'.
Decades later he sees it as the "miracle" grain that could replace quinoa and transform the economy of the Sahel.
Fonio has been grown for over 5,000 years and is possibly the oldest cultivated cereal in Africa. The gluten-free grain, native to Thiam's birth country, Senegal, has been touted as the next quinoa.
"It is nutritious, particularly rich in methionine and cysteine, two amino acids that are deficient in most other major grains: barley, rice or wheat to name a few," the chef said of fonio at the recently concluded TEDGlobal Conference in Tanzania.
And it is from exporting this grain that he believes the Sahel can turn its economy around.
The mystery of a grain
Years ago while doing research for his cookbook, Thiam was reintroduced to fonio, the grain he knew from childhood.
He would later learn that everywhere fonio was grown, it was shrouded in myths and superstitious beliefs.
"In Casamance, Senegal (where my parents are from), growing fonio around one's compound is believed to keep away the evil eye," he said.
His study led him further down a rabbit hole of discovery.
Natives of Dogon in Mali believe it is "the seed