“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste it’s sweetness on the desert air”.
These lines from the poem “Elegy Written in a country church yard” by Thomas Gray aptly describes the obscurity and potential of this food grain. Almost everybody in Nigeria knows about , cassava, yam, garri, rice beans etc. but many would not have heard about acha. It is so obscure that even when you manage to find a trader that knows it, it is sold in very few places. Acha is grown mostly by the Biroms in Plateau state. It is also grown in Southern Kaduna, which incidentally borders Plateau state. I got to know about it for the first time while on posting to Plateau for my Youth Service.
Acha is a very tiny grain, about 1/10 of the guinea corn or about 1/3 of the couscous grain. It’s really tiny and come in various colors of brown, light grey or beige. It looks like quinoa grown by native Americans. the grain is known in English as Fonio borrowed from its Wolof name foño.
Acha can be cooked in so many ways. When prepared like Jollof rice, it is called “gwote” a staple meal of the Biroms, and it can be made as a cereal which looks like oat porridge. It can also be cooked like moimoi, a boiled bean cake and when ground, it makes lovely foo-foo eaten with soup.
Mostly made of fiber and protein, it is very healthy and good for diabetics. The maximum cooking time is about 15minutes. The major problem is that it is sandy and requires a lot of cleaning which is made more difficult by its tiny size. It is farmed by locals whose threshing methods attract sand. This crop could be a great revenue earner with attention and improved production.
Acha is gradually getting popular, especially among those with health challenges. It is now packaged and sold in a few shops and markets in Abuja. While in Lagos and other parts of the Southern Nigeria, you may find it in “Mammy” market in army barracks. I challenge you to try it and tell us your opinion.