Teff is a plant traditional grown in Africa, and is a major staple of Ethiopian cuisine. It has recently found a home in the US, and is becoming equally important to our eco-system and local economy.
The plant relies on the African weather climate, which can be simulated to some degree in the US: particularly in the South. Americans have a cosmopolitan approach to dining, and Ethopian cuisine has recently become popularized in the South, making it the perfect southern crop.
Injera is a staple food of Ethiopian cuisine. Simply put, it is a bread baked with flour crafted from teff seeds. It shares many features with our own local grains, such as an ease to produce on a mass scale, a long storage life and high nutritional value. In Ethiopian restaurants, this type of bread is usually used as a bowl: hollowed in the middle for soup and other dishes.
There are two main reasons why teff has become a popular US food. The first is the changing climate of the South: farmers are looking for crops that can withstand harsh summers and high levels of drought. This is true in California as well, where droughts have become a serious problem.
The second reason is simply an increased interest in Ethiopian food, and the ingredients needed to make it. Ethiopian communities are a big part of southern culture, and their restaurants are as well.
American scientists are already looking for an alternative to traditional American crops: ones that can better withstand the changes in climate and the decreasing availability of water. This research was spearheaded by Ethiopian-American scientists, and has expanded into the broader scientific community of California. Scientist Tarrike Berhe stated the following:
“California is the food basket of the United States, but it also faces serious challenges with water in the future, so we need to diversify the crops that we grow to beat the threat.”
Farmers are fascinated by the teff plant, as it opens up a new market while allowing them to remain productive and profitable, even in the face of production challenges.
“We decided to utilize its fast germination,” stated Azevedo, a Californian farmer. “One of the advantages of teff is it has a short growing season, and so if we have the opportunity to plant and harvest one crop and plant another crop within the same growing season, it gives us an opportunity to make good use of our land resources.”
It’s the rice farmers that are most interested in accepting the chances this “new” crop provides. Their way of work very much depends on a healthy supply of water, which has been increasingly threatened by rising drought. For rice farmers, teff is an equally profitable alternative that won’t depend on water stability.
Teff is a plant that’s commonly grown in Africa and used to make bread. It’s now produced right here in the US, mostly in the south. It will take some time for farmers to adapt to a new crop, but teff could hold the answers to growing food in the face of rising drought and climate change.