Snail farming or heliculture is the act of raising snails for food and other human uses. Snails belong to the second largest group in the animal kingdom called Phylum Mollusca among other invertebrates ( animals without backbone). Snails can self-fertilize because they are hermaphrodites, this means each snail has both the male and female organs. They are also capable of reproducing rapidly; producing 300 eggs in one batch 2-3 times a year.
For many years, Africa’s appetite for snails has been served through traditional means; snails handpicked from the bush (usually in the dead of the night) have been the only way to get them to the market and dinner table. However, as Nigeria’s population continues to explode and our forests continue to be sacrificed to build cities, the (bush) supply of snails cannot keep up with the soaring demand. This has created an opportunity in the market for snail breeders and farmers who now cultivate these interesting creatures on small farms and in their backyards for impressive profits.
Nutritional Benefit of Snails
Snails are a huge part of the diet content in many parts of Africa, although they are not always affordable and available all year round. Their high protein, low fat and cholesterol contents make them a nutritional favourite. Snail meat contains almost all the amino acids needed by the body and most of its by-products are used for cosmetics and medicines.
As our population becomes more interested in healthier living and low-cholesterol diets, snails will become a popular alternative to all the fatty and non-healthy meats that flood our markets nowadays. Added to their greater health benefits, they are much cheaper than red meat.
Snail Market in Nigeria.
Snails are very dormant during the dry season; they become increasingly scarce during this period and the market is starved of adequate supply until the next wet season. This makes the supply of snails very seasonal in many parts of Africa where they serve as food. Snails may go on break during the dry seasons but the human appetite for its taste always remains, and continues to grow throughout the year.
Due to a steady growth in demand from customers, hotels and restaurants are always in need of snail delicacies on their menus. And given the significant upside to the profits that can be made, it makes a lot of sense to take maximum advantage of this market when the supply of snails is significantly short.
There is also growing demand in Europe for giant African snails. Apart from their great taste, many people in the West like to keep them as pets and keepsakes due to their sheer size (I was surprised too!). But never mind, you are more likely to be very busy satisfying the local demand to bother about exports.
Tips for Snail Farming Start-up.
- Low start-up cost: Unlike many other livestock businesses, snail farming requires very little startup and operating costs.With a small space at your backyard you can start snail rearing.
- Snail friendly Environment: Snails are easily dehydrated, and wind increases the rate of moisture lost in them. To prevent snails from losing water so quickly, your snaileries (the snail house) must be located in environments that are protected from wind. A low plain, downhill site surrounded with enough trees is perfect for snail farming. You may plant plantains and bananas around your snail farm to prevent the impact of wind. Their major habitat is soil which contains some of the components and chemical substances that they need to survive.
However, not all types of soil are suitable for snail rearing. The snail shell mainly consists of calcium which is derived mostly from the soil. They also lay eggs on the soil and drink water out of the soil. Hence, the suitable soil for snail farming must contain these elements. It must be balanced- not waterlogged, not too dry, and must not be acidic. The most desirable soil for snails is sandy-loamy soil with low water holding capacity. Clayey soil and acidic soil must be avoided.
- Snail Food and Feeding: Snails, especially Achatina, mainly feeds on green leaves and fruits though they can utilize other types of foods. Feed your snails leaves, fruits, or even formula from the feed store. Aside from food to grow tissues, snails need calcium to grow shells.
Leaves: Cocoyam leaves, pawpaw leaves, okra leaves, cassava leaves, eggplant leaves, cabbage and lettuce leaves.
Fruits: Mango, eggplant, pawpaw, banana, tomatoes, oil palm fruits, pears, and cucumber.
- When procuring snails: it is advisable to get snails directly from the forest instead of buying from the market after they might have been exposed to sunlight and got Dehydration stresses them out, and reduces their fertility capacity.
Intending snail farmers could pick snails from the bush with a very simple technique; clear a little portion of land during rainy season and sprinkle spicy fruits like pineapples, pawpaws, plantains, bananas, etc at about 5o’clock in the evening. On return, about 7pm or 8pm, select ones that appear suitable for rearing. Repeat the procedure until you get your required quantity.
Another way could be to pick up snail eggs littered in the market place where it is sold and through a technique, check the fertility of the eggs, because some of them must have lost fertility due to the exposure to sunlight. The eggs are later put inside a container containing wet sand and covered with cocoyam leaves. Between 21 to 28 days, the eggs would hatch into baby snails. You start feeding them and gradually you raise a snail farm.
Once they start growing, separate the big ones from the small ones. It takes more than a year for the Achatina type (also known as the giant African snail) to grow to harvest size, Others mature in two years.
In conclusion, snail farming is an easy, affordable alternative for the cash-strapped entrepreneur; all it needs is a little space, attention and dedication yet it yields good profits. For example, one can easily rear 100,000 snails and after a year or two, sell them at the rate of N50 each (highly reduced price) thereby earning about N5 million!
That’s cool investment.
Fikayo Owoeye writes for Nairametrics