Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Révis. gramin. 2: 399, f. 113 (1831).
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.
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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.