Snail farming in Africa is one of the top interesting business opportunities on the continent.
West Africa is home to the largest species of land snail in the world. The Giant African land snail (Achatina species), is known to grow up to 30cm in length and can be found in the dense tropical rain forests across the region from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Ghana to Nigeria and Cameroon.
For hundreds of 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 snails to the market and dinner table.
However, as Africa’s population explodes 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.
Let’s find out how fast these slow animals can bring in cash….
Snails are a great delicacy, and for good reason too…
Snails are a huge part of the diet in many parts of Africa, although they are not always affordable and available all year round. Their high protein, low fat and cholesterol content make them a nutritional favourite.
Snails contain 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 to all the fatty and non-healthy meats that flood our markets nowadays. They are much cheaper than red meat with greater health benefits on top!
Snails have, for a long time, been a popular and recurring item on the menus of hotels, restaurants and bars where they often feature as boiled, fried and spiced kebabs. They are also a great addition to soups and stews which are a significant part of most African dishes.
Tasty African delicacies featuring the Giant African snail (photo credits: afrolems.com; mamadish.com)
Market Opportunities for Snail Farming in Africa
Most of the snails supplied to the African market are gathered from bushes and forests during the rainy season (usually between April and September).
Because 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.
As a consequence, snails can fetch much higher prices during the dry season (December to March) when supply often does not keep up with demand.
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. And to think that several festivities take place during the dry season (Christmas et al), makes this a first choice agribusiness.
Due to steadily growing 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 abroad like to keep them as pets and keepsakes due to their sheer size (I was surprised too!). But never mind, you are likely to be very busy satisfying the local demand to bother about exports.
Giant African snails are a popular sight on Africa’s interstate and transnational highways (photo credit: Frans Lanting)
Success tips for aspiring Snail farming in Africa
As a Smallstarter, your primary goal should be to take advantage of the seasonality of this market in order to gain premium prices for your snails. Target the high-end customers (hotels, restaurants and households) who can afford to pay a premium for a steady supply of the product.
If you supply all year round, you are likely to earn lesser during the rainy seasons (when supply is in abundance) and more in the dry seasons (when the product is scarce).
You could buy cheaply from the villages and other remote areas while the supply is up during the rainy season and maintain a healthy stock of large snails that you can unleash on your customers when supply falls in the dry season.
But to achieve this, there is a very important condition. The size of your snails must be large and ‘intimidating’ enough to command a premium (high) price.
For this to happen, you must start your snail farm with the right species (the Giant African type) and ensure that you apply proper breeding, stocking and feeding practices to achieve the huge sizes that will make you a highly sought after supplier.
If your snails are bred well, they should start to reach market size from six to twelve months, although some farmers like to leave theirs for much longer. (photo credit: msn.com)
Presently, more than 90 percent of the snails supplied to our local markets are picked from the forests. While this has been the traditional supply source, our growing population and rising rural to urban migration rates make it unsustainable.
An artificial intervention like snail farming is the only way to satisfy the growing demand. And as long as a huge chunk of the market depends on snails captured in the wild, nobody can assure a steady and consistent supply of large snails like a farmer who breeds snails in his/her backyard!
Some things you should consider before you start a snail farm…
In terms of cost and time, snail farming is a low risk business. Unlike many other livestock businesses, snail farming requires very little startup and operating costs.
It can be run from your backyard (if you have a sizeable one) or on that piece of land wasting away in your neighbourhood or village.
Snails are friendly to the environment and their droppings are not offensive (unlike pigs and poultry) so there’s no chance an angry neighbor will come knocking.
Snails also multiply really fast laying up to 100 eggs in one go. Because snails are hermaphrodites (have both male and female sexual organs), they get to mate easily throughout the year. This high reproduction rate has made snails a pest in many regions of the world.
However, it’s this fast reproductive ability that makes these slow creatures a delight to an entrepreneur. Snails can give very high returns on your initial investment if you do your homework well and target niche and repeat customers. (photo credit: scientificamerican.com)
If you would like to read more on snail farming, we recoomend you download these two books
For a quick review of the requirements and procedures, read on.
Suitable Place and Soil
For snail farming an open pasture should select where suitable plants are grown for feed and shelter. Basically any kinds of shed are not used. At the time of selecting a site for snail farming the main concern should given to the prevailing wind that is essential to dry out the soil. A farmer have to concentrate to eliminate predatory insects and pests. For this reason soil analysis and ensuring growing leafy, green vegetable crops are urgent. It is said that friable soil with PH 5.8 to 7.5 and calcium contain soil is useful in this regards.
The soil structure should be light because clay soil is inappropriate for egg lying and moving. Besides, plants and snail should keep moist by night time dew, rain or collected misting. Snail can move more easily on moist, leaves and ground and that is why they can eat more and grow faster.Proper drainage system is necessary because no water should remain on ground in puddles. Rain water and collected irrigation is also important for snail farming. The place should be free from big tress so that no predatory and insects can grow and these tress give shade for the development of crops that hinders dew fall.
Size of Farm
Generally the size of a farm may be varied or depends on the category of grower. Cottage industry or the people who start from his hobby can utilize around 1000 to 2000 meters area. On the other hand, the people who start as a small business can use, average around 3000 to 10,000 squares meters area. If a farmer wants to start in a large scale, he has to take at least 2 hectors area and must increase this area with the increasing of his business up to 30 hectors.
Constructing a Snailery
There are different kinds of snailery can be built. In this regards, some factors have to take in consideration. Firstly, the snails stage of development and snails habit. The most important matter is that snailery must be an escape proof and be effective against predators and it permits easy entree to the trend snails. When a person wants to build a snailery, he must require some materials that are decay- and termite –resistant timber, such as Milicia excelsa (trade name- iroko); Nauclea diderrichii (trade name- opepe); Lophira alata (trade name – ekki), sandcrete blocks; mosquito nets and polythene sheets. These types of materials are needed for each kinds of snailery that are mentioned below.
- Hutch boxes
- Trench pens
- Mini Paddock pens
- Moveable pens
- Free range pens
Generally the most of the species of snail are vegetarian and they accept many kinds of feed. Different types of feed that is favored by the most investigated species, Achatina achatina, and the diet that is recommended to the farmers who is rearing this species, described here.
Types of Feed
Some studied show that A.achatina can utilize a wide range of feed items. Basically it prefers green leaves, fruits, tubers and flowers. Unlike other species it favors leaves and fruits which are separated from main plant. Snails prefer wet leaves to dry leaves. The recommended feed items are below.
- Leaves: Cocoyam, kola, bokoboko, paw paw, cassava, okra, eggplant, loofa, etc.
- Fruits: Pawpaw, mango, banana, pear, oil palm, fig tomato etc.
- Tubers: Cocoyam, cassava, yam, sweet, potato and plantain.
- Flowers: Oprono, odwuma and pawpaw.
Besides these feeds, a farmer should provide nutrition rich feeds that enhance the growth of snails. In this regards farmers can provide mixture feed.
Mating and Egg Lying
Snails are a unique animal which has both male and female reproductive organs, in short hermaphrodites. In spite of being hermaphrodites, they do intercourse with another snail of same species before laying eggs. Some snails act as males one season and in another season as females and fertilize each other simultaneously. The mating of snails occurs only when they become mature or adult enough. Generally the mating occurs in the late spring or early summer. After doing intercourse, snail can store its sperm for up to year, but usually it lays eggs within in a few weeks. Mating also depends on origination although they are same species as for example a H. aspersa from southern France may deny a H. aspersa from northern France. At least two inches deep soil is suitable for laying eggs. The place should be pests free such as ants, earwigs, millipedes etc. Dry soil, clay soil heavy soil is not suitable for laying eggs. It decreases the reproduction and hatching ability. Hatchability of eggs depends on soil temperature, soil humidity soil composition etc. The soil which is rich in moisture is suitable for laying eggs. After laying egg snails lose its weight and some do not recover it. And investigation says that about one-third of the snails die after the breeding season.
It is recommended to the farmers that a hygienic environment of snails can prevent the spread of disease and improve the health and grow rate of snails. For example, removing or replacing daily food to avoid spoilage. Farmer should add earthworms to the soil that helps to keep the pen clean and also have a concern about intestinal infections that causes for the bacterium Pseudomonas. Snails may be attacked by parasites, nematodes, trematodes, fungi, and micro arthropods when the populations of snails are dense. Careful consecrations have to for predators such as: rats, mice, moles, skunks, weasels, birds etc.
West Africa and west French are the two main areas of snails’ consumption in the world. In West Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire are the main markets of snails. France plays a significant role in snails’ trade. Some of the snails are imported from French and exported to the European countries or North America. Annually, the USA alone about imports $200 million worth of snails. Other markets are Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Japan , Sweden, Austria, Denmark etc. and the main suppliers to these markets are Greece, Turkey, Rumania, Algeria, Tunisia etc.