Digitaria exilis (fonio) is a grain native to West Africa that is richly tied to the region’s history and culture. Fonio is particularly important as a subsistence crop in rural areas of the Fouta Djallon in southern Senegal and northern Guinea. Although corn is the dominant crop in this zone, fonio is widely grown and is highly valued for its place in traditional fare as well as its nutritious qualities.
Fonio is rich in ecotypic diversity and a number of its varieties can survive on low rainfall, high temperatures, and tired soils. These varieties could potentially provide a viable alternative to corn should regional temperatures and precipitation patterns change. This research aims, in part, to estimate the effect of changes in climate on the net value of fonio production in the study region. I explore, as well, the role of traditional varieties of fonio and other crops as a climate change adaptation measure. I describe the structure of agroecosystems in northern Guinea and southern Senegal and what drives the differences between them. The factors that influence agroecosystem structure in the Fouta Djallon are numerous. Political and historical differences between Senegal and Guinea play a large role in the farming systems people choose. I also document economic and infrastructure differences and the role that they play in agroecosystems. Finally, I explore the effects of climate on agroecosystems and the role of land use change in agrobiodiversity and agroecosystem functioning.
The Fouta Djallon is rather homogenous ecologically but varies quite widely culturally, politically, economically, and historically. This research explores the relationship between human systems and ecological and environmental systems. It attempts to tease out these relationships in order to project likely future effects of environmental change on food security and human livelihoods in the region.