FROM THE FARM, CROSSING YOUR KITCHEN, TO YOUR POCKET
As this column makes its debut in this particular edition of this special newspaper, may I express my eagerness to always bring you that unique relationship between the farm, your kitchen and your health with possible clues to some money finding their way into your coffers. It is often said that a healthy person is wealthy and takes it for granted until he strays into the hospital. People are also advised to eat food like medicine (when they are young) so that they won’t have to eat medicines like food (when they are old). And, this is part of the objectives of this column.
Again, the anger of a mad person is comparable to the pain of being penniless.
Nigeria is not just blessed with good people but also endowed with so much natural potentials in many aspects of human existence.
Agriculture is a whole wonder, producing all sorts of food and interestingly, in their organic form. With the promise to link the three aspects of farm, kitchen and health for you, I begin with ACHA.
WHAT IS ACHA
Acha is a local cereal known as FONIO in English. Some people call it hungry rice. There are two species of Acha- the white and the black. The botanical name is digitariaexilis for the white one and digitariaiburua for the black one. Acha is common and remains a staple in the north and middle belt areas of Nigeria as well as other parts of Africa including Cape Verde and Lake Chad areas, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and even Guinea. Across these areas, Acha is known as Potolo, Findi, Funyo etc.
Records indicate that each year, farmers around West Africa devote upwards of three hundred thousand hectares of land to this crop supplying food to upwards of five million people. However, this cereal has not received the attention it deserves considering its value. You may wonder how Acha comes to life.
At germination, it shoots out, looking like a nice green lawn and upon maturity, it looks like hay. The seed is less than one millimeter long and has a husk which makes the shelling and milling a difficult task. It is harvested by hand using knives and winnowed, then pounded in traditional wooden mortar to remove the husks, it is winnowed again before washing and drying. Unfortunately, there is no mechanized method yet of going through this process, though we found a machine fabricator who says he can mechanise the entire process. We wait for an investor to take up this challenge.
Acha is recognized as one of the world’s fastest maturing cereals as it takes 6 to 8 weeks to be ready for harvest. It can grow on remarkably poor soil. Usually planted with other crops, they come earlier and assist farmers with enough food to live on while waiting for other crops to mature.
The demand for acha today cannot be met by farmers as acha is fast gaining recognition and prominence since people started learning about its attributes. Acha has tremendous health benefits which endorses it for all classes of people from babies to the aged.
Acha is usually prepared and enjoyed in a variety of ways. Acha was branded “hungry man’s rice” because a little quantity goes a long way to quelling the hunger of many. For instance, two cups can serve eight persons. It could be served at any time of the day depending on the mode of preparation.
For breakfast, acha could be made into porridge. Just take one cup of acha, put it in a bowl, wash to remove sand, then place in a medium size pot, add two cups of water or milk as you may desire, place on low heat for about ten minutes stirring continuously until the seeds have absorbed all the liquid and become tender. You may add salt to taste and/or sugar or any sweetener. The sugar from cane or date comes as a perfect match. Adding some fruits makes your breakfast acha exotic and could be served with any accompaniment such as akara (bean cake) or moimoi (bean pudding). Acha is quite tastyand can be taken alone for some that may not want the breakfast too heavy. It is usually served babies in this way and has proven to be better than processed cereals.
For lunch,acha could be made into foofoo known as tuwonacha in Hausa or nniacha in Igbo. To make this for five adult persons, clean two cups of the cereal to remove sand. Get a sizeable pot, add two litres of water and bring it to a boiling point. Gradually and continuously add the acha, stirring vigorously so as to maintain a smooth paste. Continue this process until the lot is in the pot. Keep stirring to achieve a thick homogenous paste. At this stage, add a little water, cover the pot and allow to simmer for about two to three minutes. Stir the smooth foofoousing a ladle, dish into plates, ready for the dining table. Your achafoofoo can be served and eaten with your favourite soup. For babies below one year, it is encouraged that they be served with okra (okro) or gombo (ogbono) soup which comes slimy and facilitates easy swallowing.
For dinner, acha could be made with a combination of vegetables. To serve five persons, you may need two and a half cups of acha. Clean the acha and place in a medium size pot. You may add two and a half cups of water or stork with one or two spoons of oil and salt to taste. Place under low heat for about seven to ten minutes. Cut your favourite vegetables: carrots, peas, green pepper, green beans, red kidney beans, cabbage etc, add to the acha with seasonings (if you wish) using fork, stir into a mixture, trying not to crush the cereal. Cover on low heat for about one minute, and your sumptuous dinner is here. You can serve alone or with meat, fish or even egg, as desired. Some children borrowed from rice and call this dish “fried acha”.
For a drink, you can easily prepare your kununacha, a tasty, safe, natural homemade drink. Get two liters of water. Get one cup of acha and some pieces of ginger fingers and pineapples. Blend all in one liter of water till it gets to a smooth paste. Add the second liter of water and mix. Pour through a strainer to eliminate the unwanted chaff. (You may not if you want the whole roughages.) you can chill your kununacha and drink as desired. Children can take it to school in place of processed and carbonated drinks.
For flour, you can produce your own flour for all kinds of pastries using acha. Just remove the sand from acha and grind into a smooth powder. Use this as desired, alone or in combination with other flour. Many times, this comes handy in the kitchen either trying to contain an over spiced soup or in recycling leftover foods. Acha flour comes tasty and crispy in making banana bread, crackers, pancakes etc.
OTHER USES OF ACHA
For animal feed, acha is great food for some animals like pigs and birds. The straw of acha and the chaff is used in feeding cattle, sheep, goat, donkeys.
For houses, the straw is chopped and mixed with clay used in building houses and making fences.
The straw is burnt to provide ash that serves same purpose as potash.
The straw also serves as cooking fuel in place of firewood.
NUTRITION VALUE OF ACHA
Experts say that the black acha, fonioiburua, contains more protein than the white one. They say there is empirical evidence that apart from lysine, which is higher in eggs, for other nutrients such as isoleucine, valine, trypothan, threonine, phenylanine, leucine, sulphur and methionine, acha contains more. Acha is found to be rich in energy, iron, vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, amino acids, and other properties that make it easily digestible. They say acha is good for cardiovascular functions and very good for diabetics. Dermatologists approve acha for the skin as well as hair and nails formation considering the properties it contains. Because it contains plenty of amino acids and, iron and folic acids, it is highly recommended for pregnant women and lactating mothers.
Acha is approved for babies as part of weaning food and even regular food and snack.
It can be applied to weight loss as experts say it has low glycemic index, rich in fiber and can be eaten in a variety of ways. Acha is favoured for both type one and type two diabetics.
ECONOMIC VALUE/UNTAPPED POTENTIAL IN ACHA
Evidence available shows that the huge potential in this cereal is being neglected and remains untapped. Acha is like the palm tree that has none of its components as useless. The farmers of this produce complain of lack of assistance from government and agencies. Some Nigerians we met during the course of this report wondered why the investors would not veer into this produce considering all the promise it hosts. Middle men can invest in acha, Engineers can manufacture machines for the processing. The media should spread the information which GISTAGRICA has started.
So, what are your thoughts now…. It is not just about a wonder cereal that has so much health benefits but also, has economic value to all. As Nigeria’s economy continues to diversify, we hope ACHA gets to receive the attention it deserves.