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I ditched crop farming to rear snails and it’s great

By Mercy Kahenda
Wangui Waweru explains the production process of snails right from hatching to maturity at her farm in Nakuru County. [Mercy Kahenda, Standard]

When Wangui Waweru was served dry fried snails at her friend’s home a while back, she couldn’t fathom the idea of the slimy feeling on her palate. 

“I was a bit hesitant to give them a try, it was my first time coming across such a meal. Where I come from, we don’t eat snails,” she says.

Six months down the line, Ms Waweru is now an established snail farmer who despite getting a few sneers here and there from neighbours, says it is the best thing she ever did.

Though her neighbours in Nakuru find the idea unpalatable, Waweru says the demand for them continues to skyrocket which means great returns for her. 

“Not many people understand why I ventured into snail farming even family but I cannot compare them with crop farming which was tedious and less paying,” says Waweru.

She is happy her snails never lack market. Before she ventured into snail farming, she was farming crops which were hard to market.

“Marketing my produce was one of the hardest things I experienced as a farmer. I spent many sleepless nights thinking about cost and where to sell since most farmers harvest the produce at the same time which fuels the marketing challenge,” she adds.

The idea to venture into snail farming came about during one of her trips to Kisumu to sell her produce. She visited a snail farmer who dished out a few tips on rearing them as well as potential markets.

“When my friend served me the snails, I was curious to know where she had gotten them, she took me to the farm where she had bought them and I developed an interest in rearing the snails immediately,” she recalls.

After traveling back to Nakuru, Waweru decided to give snail farming a try. She started by enrolling for a course at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). 

However, establishing the farm was not easy. There were challenges one among them debunking the cultural and traditional myths associated with snails in her community.

Having made up her mind, she constructed pens and stocked them with 17 giant African land snail variety donated by a farmer in Nyeri.

Unfortunately, all the snails were eaten by predators. She, however, did not give up on the venture. She purchased 34 adult snails at Sh10 each, a number that has since increased to about 1,200.

“The main challenge I incurred after establishing the farm was predators. Children strayed on the farm and exposed the snails to the sun, leaving most of them dead, while others were eaten by spiders,” she says.

Waweru who has a ready market for the snails sells a kilo for Sh1,500. In a week she produces about five kilos of snails.

“The demand for snails has been on the rise, I am not able to meet the rising demand but my plan is to expand my venture this year. There is money in snail rearing but not many farmers are willing to do this type farming,” she notes.

The snails are kept in mini-paddock structures covered with nylon mesh to prevent them from escaping.

A concrete slab is placed on the pens to help in retention of water and provide conducive environment for the snails.

Snail farming requires less space, is a low risk business, requires less labour and has more profit unlike crop and livestock farming.

“Snails also multiply fast, for instance, they lay at least 100 to 400 eggs whose hatchability stands at 90 per cent,” says Waweru.

The snails at the farm are fed on carrots, kales, cabbage and crushed egg shells that supplement calcium and feeding is mostly done after sunset. They also feed on fruits like melon, banana, carrots, cucumber, grapes and pawpaw.

Waweru explains that the feeds should not be stale, with leftover removed to avoid contamination and diseases.

She notes that watering the farm is a must since the snails survive in a wet environment. Snails are cold-blooded and thrive best in areas with moderate temperatures and high humidity.

Quality production of snail depends on ambient temperatures and humidity that ranges between 30 to 70 degrees celsius. High temperatures slow down their growth.  

“Though snails feed mostly on greens, they too require calcium for development of shells and carbohydrates to supply them with enough energy, among other food rich in vitamins and minerals,” she said.

Snails lay eggs in late evening and night and a single snail can lay between 100 and 400 eggs.

At the farm, they lays eggs on clutches that are collected and placed in hatcheries. It takes about two to three weeks for the eggs to hatch depending on temperatures. 

“Snails start laying eggs six months after they are hatched and laying takes place in 72 hours. The eggs are transferred into an incubator for hatching. It takes about 25 to 33 days for the eggs to hatch,”she adds.

Baby snails have thin shell membrane that harden progressively. At about two weeks, the young ones are introduced to feeding.

To establish a snail farm, one needs to establish a secure location free of predators. A snailery should also be escape proof and the snails are not supposed to be overcrowded as such hampers their development and increase in risk of diseases.

Main challenge in snail farming she says is predators mainly spiders that are kept at bay by maintaining cleanness.

To keep predators at bay, the farmer has fenced her snail paddocks. 

To understand profit and losses incurred in snail farming, the farmer too keeps records that indicate input and output on the farm.

The African giant snail is the most preferable breed for meat and slime — even though it does not give much slime. The snails are fed on fruits and vegetables and their housing demand is also quite modest since they can be bred in wooden boxes or even old tyres as long as a low -temperature environment is guaranteed.

There are no reliable statistics for the industry but it is estimated that the global snail industry represents more than $12 billion or Sh1.2 trillion, with 450,000 tons consumed per year. While a part of this comes from developed snail breeding units in Western countries, the greater majority of the production comes from the collection of snails in the wild in developing countries.

Before one gets begins rearing the snails he must get a no-objection letter from the National Museum of Kenya then proceed to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) for a rearing permit. This is because snails are considered wildlife.

Snails are basically consumed like any other type of meat. Scientists say they are a good source of protein for their high-level of Omega 3.

The snails have an average lifespan of 5-7 years, but with good management, they can live up to 10 years.

Giant African snails thrive in hot and humid environment like that in Kisumu.

The snails are a common delicacy among communities in West Africa and the farmer has found a niche market among Nigerians, Ghanaians and Asians in the country.

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