a searing midday sun, a herd of cattle circles atop a pile of golden teff,
thrashing the wheat-like grain, a method that has been practised by Ethiopian
farmers for centuries.
crop, mostly grown in the Horn of Africa, is a key part of the country's
heritage and a crucial food staple, but is also gaining increased interest
abroad among health aficionados seeking a nutritious, gluten-free
alternative to wheat.
are proud of the crop because it is almost our identity," said Solomon
Chanyalew, director of the Debre Zeyt Agricultural Research Centre, a teff
these days, teff is getting global attention," he said.
unknown outside of Ethiopia – for now – the cereal is predicted to replace quinoa
as the latest global "super-food".
may be safe for coeliacs
Ideal for diabetics
a ban on exports to control price hikes at home has left farmers tied to local
consumers, limiting their contribution to growing markets abroad.
poppy-seed sized grain is renowned for its nutritional qualities. Mineral-rich
in protein, teff is also a slow-releasing food, ideal for diabetics, and
sought after by people with a gluten intolerance, or coeliac disease.
is not only gluten-free, which is an increasingly important aspect of foods
that is being sought out, but it's also incredibly nutritious. Many people
consider teff to be a super-food," said Khalid Bomba, CEO of Ethiopia's
Agricultural Transformation Agency.
Ethiopia, teff is used to make injera, a spongy fermented pancake topped with
meat or vegetable stew and consumed with an almost religious devotion, often
three times a day.
the West however, where it is touted by celebrity chefs and health-conscious
Hollywood stars, the grain is most commonly ground into flour and used to make
biscuits, breads, pastas and even teff juice.
is also a resilient crop; it can grow between sea level and 3 000 metres and is
both drought- and flood-resistant, ideal for Ethiopia's dry highlands.
despite its versatility, Ethiopia's 6.5 million teff farmers struggle to meet
local demand – let alone growing demand from abroad – with limited access to
seed varieties, fertilisers and modern machinery that would allow for higher
also suffers from a lack of research since it is considered an "orphan
crop", unlike global crops like rice, wheat, and maize, which are widely
studied and well-funded.
don't want to work on teff, basically, it's not paying," said Kebebew
Assefa, one of only two full-time teff researchers in Ethiopia.
Yields have increased
productivity has climbed to bridge the supply gap, with the introduction of 19
new teff varieties and improved farming techniques.
the last four years, yields have increased from 1.2 to 1.5 million tonnes per
hectare, which Khalid said bodes well.
production increases are what gives us the confidence that Ethiopia will be
able to compete at a global level when it comes to tapping into the increasing
demand from consumers in Europe, in London, or New York or Brisbane," he
estimated two million tonnes per hectare is required to reach export potential.
Price already too high
now, the ban on exports remains in place to avoid the pitfalls of quinoa in
Bolivia, where most people could not afford the staple crop after the surge in
price of teff is already too high for the
majority of Ethiopians who earn less than two dollars per day.
farmers are eager to export their teff, well aware of the higher prices they
want to sell it abroad because it's going to have a good market and I will earn
good money and it will bring good motivation for my work," said Tirunesh Merete,
60, who has been growing teff for nearly four decades.
farmer Amha Abraham said he is keen to make more money, but recognises that
local markets need to be fed first.
we export teff to other countries then we can get a lot of money, but we must
provide first for our country's consumption," he said, standing near a
giant pile of golden teff stalks, used for roofing and as cattle feed.
the export ban is lifted, Ethiopian farmers remain excluded from a growing
international industry, with teff products appearing on shelves in health food
stores across North America and Europe.
has started talking about gluten-free," said Rob Roffel, CEO of the Dutch
company Consenza, which produces gluten-free foods from teff grown in the
demand for gluten-free foods mainly was for coeliacs... but what we see now more
and more is other target groups interested in teff flour," he said, adding
that his business has grown 30%annually since 2006.
the meantime, Khalid said he has high hopes for teff.
you look at what's happened with quinoa, it's a $150 million market in five
years and teff is actually much more nutritious and much more resilient than
quinoa," he said.
we think there's a much bigger market opportunity for teff."
more people go gluten-free?
can eat gluten
(Picture:Teff flour from Shutterstock)