Fonio is a cereal food of great socio-economic and cultural importance in south Sahara African Countries. Unfortunately, it is practically absent from National Agricultural Research Programs. To characterize the agro-morphological diversity of fonio ecotypes grown in Benin, twenty accessions collected from Boukoumbé were evaluated in a randomized complete block design (RCBD) with three replicates in Parakou. Significant variability was detected for several characters. The early accessions matured at approximately 90 days after sowing with yields below 800 kg/ha. The late accessions matured in 100 days and the most productive recorded more than 1.5 t/ha. Factor analysis of mixed data helped to classify the accessions into four morphological groups. Chi-square independence test showed that collar color, green color of foliar limb, anthocyanin coloration and its distribution in different aerial organs, type of panicle and panicle exsertion were the most discriminating qualitative parameters. The λ-wilk test revealed that date of flowering, plant height, length of panicle leaf, length of racemes and grain yield were the most discriminating quantitative traits. This study enabled a better knowledge of cultivated ecotypes and distinguishing criteria. The variability observed offered interesting perspectives for genetic progress through breeding programs of these ecotypes. However, it is important to improve our understanding on the floral biology and reproductive system for this species to create new and efficient varieties.
Key words: Genetic variability, neglected plant, morphotype, crop phenology, growth parameters.
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