How Kenneth Matiba used export beer to drown snails and save flowers

A snail is diplayed during World Snail Tourism Day. [File, Standard]

What would be a perfect gift for a teetotaler to an Anglican missionary? A bible embellished with an animal skin and in African artefacts? Wrong! Veteran politician Kenneth Matiba chose to gift his long lost missionary friend, a case of Guinness stout bottles.

When an agent of Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL) knocked on the door of Cyril Hooper in England to offer a couple of stout beers, the missionary who had once served at Kahuhia in Murang'a was not scandalised.

When he wrote to Matiba sometimes in 1975, he explained how he had utilised the beer he could not drink because of his religious faith. Apparently, Hooper had used the Guinness to trap snails which fell in love with the strong, thick, roasted grain taste drink and drowned their sorrows and souls to damnation, to the delight of the missionary.

As he explained to Matiba in his letter, Hooper would drain the stout in a "slug pub" and then the slugs "just crowded in and drank the beer, got drunk and then drowned in it."

Rather than be outraged that his export beer had been fed to snails and slugs, Matiba explains in his autobiography that he was excited because he had unwittingly found the final solution for the menace that had hampered his flower growing.

"We put the Guinness in dishes and then sank them into the soil making the brim level with the ground. The success we had was staggering. The snails came out to drink in large numbers."

Every morning, Matiba and his staff would count hundreds of snails that had over-indulged and never made it home for they drowned before tasting his Cymbidium orchids he was growing in his 20-acre farm in Riara ridge, Limuru.

This was quite ironic for Matiba's father, Stanley Njindo loved beer and drank it in secrecy and later broke the beer bottles for fear of being found out and punished by the colonial government which had employed him as an education officer.

But as Matiba later learnt, rats were not as dumb as snails and refused to indulge in rat blocks, which he had installed at strategic places. After their initial realisation the rats decided that the blocks were poisonous and not as nutritious as flower spikes.

Matiba was only able to export his orchids after duping rats with small pieces of meat put in conventional rat traps. After all these experiments, he was able to plant 50,000 plants in 14 colours which he later exported to Japan, West Germany, Switzerland, Finland and Norway.