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Panicum laetum Kunth

Révis. gramin. 2: 399, f. 113 (1831).
Poaceae (Gramineae)
Vernacular names
Wild fonio, desert panic (En). Haze, fonio sauvage (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Panicum laetum is distributed from Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia eastwards through the southern Sahara and the Sahel to Eritrea; it is also recorded from Tanzania.
Panicum laetum is one of the ‘kreb’ grasses, a group of grasses occurring in the Sahel and collected from the wild for human consumption on a regular basis and especially in times of food shortage; it is also regarded as a delicacy. The grain of Panicum laetum is crushed and made into porridge and cakes, and is sometimes collected on a large enough scale to be sold in local markets. Panicum laetum is much appreciated by animals for grazing and is suitable for making hay or silage. It is considered to have potential for the restoration of degraded pastures.
Whole grains of Panicum laetum collected in Mali contained per 100 g: water 3.3 g, energy 1580 kJ (377 kcal), protein 9.5 g, fat 4.8 g, carbohydrate 70.8 g, Ca 51 mg and Fe 210 mg. The essential amino acid content of whole grains per 16 g N was: tryptophan 1.3 g, lysine 2.0 g, methionine 2.6 g, phenylalanine 5.9 g, threonine 3.7 g, valine 6.0 g, leucine 11.3 g and isoleucine 4.7 g. Husked grains contained per 100 g: water 1.9 g, energy 1630 kJ (389 kcal), protein 12.4 g, fat 2.2 g, carbohydrate 82.1 g, ash 1.4 g, Ca 13 mg and Fe 24 mg. The essential amino acid content of husked grains per 16 g N was: tryptophan 1.4 g, lysine 1.3 g, methionine 2.6 g, phenylalanine 6.3 g, threonine 3.6 g, valine 6.0 g, leucine 12.2 g and isoleucine 5.1 g (Beseth Nordeide, Holm & Oshaug, 1994). The most limiting amino acid is lysine.
Panicum laetum plants in mid-bloom in Niger contain crude protein 14.3%, crude fibre 28.8%, crude fat 1.8%, nitrogen-free extracts 42.9%, Ca 0.30%, Mg 0.28% and P 0.42%.
Annual, tufted grass up to 75 cm tall; stem (culm) slender, erect or geniculately ascending, branched. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; leaf sheath glabrous or bristly-hairy; ligule short, fringed; blade linear-lanceolate, flat, 5–25 cm × 5–12 mm, acuminate, usually glabrous, margin smooth or bristly hairy in lower part. Inflorescence an ovoid panicle 6–20 cm long, much-branched, primary branches ascending or spreading, branchlets and pedicels slender. Spikelet narrowly ellipsoid, 2.5–3 mm × 1.5 mm, acute, usually pale green, 2-flowered; lower glume ovate, about ½ the length of the spikelet, 5–7-veined, acute, upper glume elliptical, 7– 11-veined, acute; lower floret sterile, lemma 9–11-veined, palea almost equally long, upper floret bisexual, lemma narrowly ovate, acute, pale, smooth, glossy; stamens 3; ovary superior, stigmas 2. Fruit an ellipsoid caryopsis (grain) 1.5–2 mm long, compressed, yellowish.
Panicum comprises about 470 species and is mainly distributed in tropical and subtropical regions, with some species extending to temperate regions.
Panicum laetum is found in seasonally moist locations in grassland, ditches, and pond and river margins, often on black clay soils. It is not particularly drought tolerant. In West Africa Panicum laetum often occurs in very large, nearly pure stands. In Tanzania it is found at 1000–1300 m altitude.
Panicum laetum is propagated by seed. The optimum temperature for seed germination is 35°C. Scarification or removal of the lemma and palea from the grain greatly improves germination. In West Africa Panicum laetum is collected from the wild by sweeping through the crop with a calabash, bowl or tray when the ears are ready to shatter. The grains of Panicum laetum are favoured by quelea birds.
Genetic resources and breeding
A collection of 25 accessions of Panicum laetum is held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In view of its wide distribution and abundance Panicum laetum is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Panicum laetum is of importance in marginal areas and has potential for restoring over-grazed pastures. The selection of improved strains for grain and fodder production is recommended.
Major references
• Beseth Nordeide, M., Holm, H. & Oshaug, A., 1994. Nutrient composition and protein quality of wild gathered foods from Mali. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 45(4): 275 286.
• Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
• Naegele, A.F.G., 1977. Plantes fourragères spontanées d’Afrique tropicale seche: données techniques. Aménagement écologique des pâturages arides et semi arides d’Afrique, du Proche et du Moyen Orient (EMASAR phase 2). Volume 3. FAO, Rome, Italy. 510 pp.
• National Research Council, 1996. Lost crops of Africa. Volume 1: grains. National Academy Press, Washington D.C., United States. 383 pp.
• Phillips, S., 1995. Poaceae (Gramineae). In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 7. Poaceae (Gramineae). The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. 420 pp.
Other references
• Bartha, R., 1970. Fodder plants in the Sahel zone of Africa. Weltforum Verlag, München, Germany. 306 pp.
• Clayton, W.D., 1972. Gramineae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, part 2. pp. 277–574.
• Harlan, J.R., 1989. Wild grass seed harvesting in the Sahara and sub Sahara of Africa. In: Harris, D.R. & Hillman, G.C. (Editors). Foraging and farming: the evolution of plant exploitation. Unwin Hyman, London, United Kingdom. pp. 79–98.
• Keith, J.O. & Plowes, D.C.H., 1997. Considerations of wildlife resources and land use in Chad. SD Technical Paper No 45. U. S. Agency for International Development, Washington, D. C. , United States. 29 pp.
• le Grand, E., 1979. Etude expérimentale des propriétés germinatives de quelques semences sahéliennes. ORSTOM, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. 39 pp.
• van der Hoek, H.N. & Jansen, P.C.M., 1996. Minor cereals. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Partohardjono, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of SouthEast Asia No 10. Cereals. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 150–156.
• Veldkamp, J.F., 1996. Revision of Panicum and Whiteochloa in Malesia (Gramineae B Paniceae). Blumea 41: 181–216.
• Veldkamp, J.F., Wijs, A.W.M. & Zoetemeyer, R.B., 1989. Panicum curviflorum and P. sumatrense (P. miliare auct. ) (Gramineae) in Southeast Asia. Blumea 34: 77–85.
M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
G. Belay
Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization, Debre Zeit Center, P.O. Box 32, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
Associate editors
J.M.J. de Wet
Department of Crop Sciences, Urbana-Champaign, Turner Hall, 1102 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801, United States
O.T. Edje
Faculty of Agriculture, University of Swaziland, P.O. Luyengo, Luyengo, Swaziland
E. Westphal
Ritzema Bosweg 13, 6706 BB Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2006. Panicum laetum Kunth In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.