Heliculture, widely know as Snail Farming is a virgin pool of opportunity widely underrated and untapped by many. When an average young individual hears of entrepreneurship, what usually comes to mind is an intricate business idea that will cause tremors in the so-called huge industries like telecommunication, finance, IT and, oil and gas. Rarely do people consider the ginormous fruits that can be reaped from agriculture. Educated African youths, as a matter of fact, do not have a predilection for agriculture and I can categorically say this because I am an educated African youth.
There is this tendency for us to always seek out white collar jobs as opposed to farming or anything agriculture-related. Now, this might just be because there is this notion that after spending several years in universities and colleges studying, the most logical step to take is to apply for jobs in white collar companies that are related to our various courses of study. As matter of fact, most African youths only study courses in the field of agriculture because they were probably not granted admissions to study the “top” courses of their choice in our universities and colleges, hence are forced to resort to agriculture. Invariably they often end up studying the agriculture-related course just to get a degree and throw it out the window after graduation.
Our governments are also guilty of this lackadaisical disposition towards agriculture and do not invest as much as they should in it. This attitude is surprising to international observers as they often wonder how a continent could be so overwhelmingly blessed with flora and fauna that support agriculture at the highest level and yet its citizens seem to be oblivious of the endless opportunities that they can take advantage of.
This neglect for agriculture has gone on for donkey years but apparently there is still hope for us as African youths either by will or their prevailing predicaments are beginning to take agriculture seriously. “Make haste while the sun shines” is a popular proverb that this new breed of African youths have decided to adhere to by utilizing the golden opportunities that agriculture can offer before these opportunities become limited by the inimical effects of global warming and climate change.
Fisheries and poultry farms are the go-to agricultural ventures we seem to be focused on. However, an exciting opportunity that God has made available to African youths through agriculture is Heliculture (Snail Farming). Heliculture, otherwise known as Snail Farming is a verbose terminology that simply means the process of rearing or farming edible land snails for food, income and most recently cosmetics as well as medicine. It could also be referred to the act of caring for land snails for the overall benefit of mankind.
Snail Farming – What You Didn’t Know
Snail Farming has been around for centuries and is not really a new venture as most people wrongly believe. It is believed that the Romans were excellent snail farmers and enjoyed some really good snail delicacies. They also used snail slimes as medicine. Archaeological findings have also shown that prehistoric men hunted and consumed snails as food.
Although snails have mastered various humid habitats across the continents, they are mostly found in the Mediterranean region-which comprises of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Europeans have been known to farm snails for their meat (escargot-boiled snail meat) and use the eggs laid by these land snails as some form of caviar.
Land snails are however predominantly found in Africa, West Africa precisely and they occur in a vast array of species but since the essence of this exposé is to reveal the somewhat hidden opportunities that are available for African youths in the business of Heliculture. Only the species of land snails that are of economic importance i.e. that are edible as well as relatively large in size are noteworthy. So based on this premise, we will concentrate on three species of land snails namely; Achatina Fulica (East African land snail), Achatina Marginata (West African Land snail) and Achatina Achatina (giant Ghana snail).
Though the Achatina Fulica and Achatina Marginata are really good species of land snails to invest in, the most desirable species is the Achatina Achatina. This is because the Achatina Achatina or giant Ghana land snail is the largest land snail in the world; they can grow up to 35cm long and 15cm wide. So in terms of meat size, the Achatina Achatina is the best there is. They also lay large numbers of eggs, between 900 to 1.5million eggs annually-they lay 300 to 500 eggs at once, 3 times a year.
You will agree with me that the numbers the Achatina Achatina produce are really good and depending on the price a snail would go for in the market, one can comfortably make cool millions yearly from Heliculture. Nevertheless, before embarking on this journey to cool millions there are some facts that an intending Heliculturist must be privy to. These facts will be discussed under the headings below.
Risks Associated With Snail Farming
The first question entrepreneurs usually ask before going into any business venture is “how much money do I need to start the business?” Snail Farming requires a considerably small amount of capital to start-up. As a matter of fact, when compared to other livestock businesses it is relatively the cheapest to start-up. This is because when starting up a snail farm, snails can easily be picked from the bush and transported to the breeding sites, hence effectively cutting the start-up cost.
Nonetheless, even if one chooses to buy snails when starting up, they are still quite cheap and you don’t need to bother buying male and female snails because snails are hermaphrodites (having both male and female sex organs). Snail Farming is also not time-consuming and its operational costs are quite low as well.
Land space is usually not an issue in Snail Farming, Heliculturist around the world have been known to make do with their backyard spaces and if you feel that feces or excreta from the snails might be a cause for concern, then you have nothing to worry about because their fecal droppings are basically odorless. Also, when compared to other livestock e.g. poultry, snails are not as prone to diseases as they are and in the advent of a disease outbreak, the rate of transmission is still on the low side.
A major concern, however, is the security of the snails. Animals like snakes, rats, and humans (thieves) prey on snails and so a snail farmer must protect his assets. Cage-like structures called snaileries are efficient on a small scale farm. These structures can be covered with wire gauze and not plywood for easy monitoring of the snails.
It is important to note that the cage-like structures would have no base covering or platform, it will be built directly on a good sandy-loamy soil in a humid environment that is in calcium and neither acidic nor waterlogged. On a larger scale, a snailery could be in the form of a trench about 5 inches wide, dug about 10 inches deep into the desired soil. This trench is then covered with a well-crafted wire gauze to prevent unwanted elements from getting into the snailery.
Snaileries also prevent the snails from loitering and becoming pests. As stated earlier snails lay eggs in large quantities and when these snails grow into maturity and are left uncontrolled, they can crawl into places where they are unwanted and constitute into being a nuisance.
Another important factor to consider is feeding the snails. Luckily this is not a big problem as snails eat fruits and vegetables that are relatively cheap and readily available. Some of these fruits and vegetables include cucumbers, mangoes, bananas, cabbages and more.
In Africa, meat from edible land snails is an integral part of our native delicacies. These snails could be packaged in the form of kebabs or used as additives to stews and soups. So it is safe to say that the demand for snail meat in Africa is high. Recent studies revealing the nutritional benefits (low fat) of snail meat have further increased the demand for snails. However, it will interest you to know that the demand for snail meat overwhelmingly outweighs its supply. This is because a large majority of snail suppliers-up to 90% only stick to the traditional method of picking snails from the bush and hence do not breed these snails themselves.
It is important to note that snails thrive in the rainy season and practically go AWOL in the dry seasons. This drastically reduces the number of snails available to be picked from the bushes during the dry season, even in the wee hours of the morning when they usually crawl out to feed. So we can clearly see that solely picking snails from the bush is not a sustainable means of supply all year round, therefore emphasizing on the need for breeding.
Why Not Take Advantage?
As young aspiring entrepreneurs, we should take advantage of this disequilibrium by becoming major stakeholders in the breeding of snails. The goal is having snails to supply to customers all year round especially when other suppliers have exhausted theirs. The target customers should be hotels, restaurants, and households who are willing to pay good money for these snails as against market sellers. One can pick snails in the bush during the raining season; when they are abundant or even buy from suppliers in remote villages at a cheap price. You could then breed these snails efficiently to ensure a continued supply during the dry season.
There is also an international market for the slime that snails secrete. Land snails secrete this slime underneath their muscular feet to reduce friction while crawling and prevent desiccation (dryness and cracking). This slime secreted by snails is used in the cosmetic industry for their antibacterial and antioxidant qualities to tackle wrinkles, aging and stretch marks.
Slime From Snails
The slime from snails have also been used in the form of syrups to fight off a cough and can be used to heal gastrointestinal ulcers. Most of the cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies that are interested in snail slime are outside Africa and would be willing to pay good money for the regular supply of snail slime. Considering the fact that we have the biggest species of snails in the world on the African continent and common sense tell us that the bigger the snail the more slime it secretes; one can confidently say that a continuous export of slime to other continents where the technology to fully harness the properties of this slime is available and can be adequately sustained.
Another lucrative idea is drying the snail meat and exporting them to countries where they are needed. This is, however, a relatively uncharted territory and requires in-depth research.
In conclusion, I believe it is safe to say the benefits of Heliculture cannot be over-emphasized and young African entrepreneurs should waste no time in subscribing to this movement as the risks are low, the merchandise is readily available and the market is large, hence profit is assured.
Lastly, the time it takes for an egg to grow into a snail and become fully mature (10 to 16 months) should not discourage or deter anyone as this can be efficiently managed through proper planning. It is no secret that employment is at an all-time low all over the world and Snail Farming can be a great tool for self-employment and empowerment if given a chance.