Some 15km from Nakuru town there is a whirlwind of activity at Ms. Wangui Waweru’s farm on which she rears in her own words is a delicacy but what many Kenyans consider inedible and disgusting.
As Ms. Waweru plies her snail farming activities barely a kilometre from the Lanet Airstrip, she is optimistic that the planned upgrade of the facility will see the region’s airspace become busier and hopes that one day the planes will transport her farm produce to different parts of the world.
A 10m by 10m greenhouse – the snail farm – stands conspicuously in her compound. Ms. Waweru has partitioned the snail house into four rooms and each contains several plastic basins covered with fine wire mesh to keep predators at bay.
Ms. Waweru discovered snail rearing as a farming business opportunity after a visit to Kisumu to sell farm produce. Eight years down the line she has not looked back.
“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.
“The idea to venture into snail farming came about during one of my trips to Kisumu to sell farm produce. I visited a snail farmer who dished out a few tips on rearing them as well as potential markets. 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).
She withdrew Sh.30,000 from her savings to set up the snail farm into the buying of greenhouse polythene, wire mesh and 100 plastic basins. She then got a permit from the Kenya Wildlife Service at Sh1,500 and ventured into the business.
Her biggest customers are expatriates in Kenya who come from Europe, Asia and West Africa who, unlike the locals, have developed a taste for what locals consider unpalatable which is very healthy meat; high in protein and very low in cholesterol.
“Africa is home to the largest species of snails in the world. The Giant African land snail, compared to other livestock, are easy and cheap to keep and maintain. And when you target the right market and customers, snail farming can be a very rewarding business.
The Giant African snails that thrive in hot and humid environment like that in Lanet have an average lifespan of 5-7 years, but with good management, they can live up to 10 years,” she explains.
The mother of three keeps 4,500 snails of the Giant African land variety (Achatinide fulica), which she sells at between sh.2,000 to 3,000 per kilo, while on average she sells 30 kilograms of the slimy creatures per month.
The farmer explains that snails are a common delicacy among communities in West Africa and she has established a niche market among Ghanaians, Cameroonians, Nigerians, Senegalese, Sierra Leones and Togolese, South Americans and Asians in the country.
The Kenya Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 allows communities to farm animals such as snails, ostriches, snakes and crocodiles.
Prior to a permit being issued, the KWS sends a research team to assess facility one has. Part of the task of KWS involves periodical monitoring of the management of the snail farms.
Before selling snails for consumption in hotels or for the export market, one has to be certified. In addition, farmers have to make quarterly reports to KWS.
She feeds the slimy creatures on vegetables and fruit pieces with cabbages and watermelon being their favourite. The vegetables should preferably be organic. The creatures also require plenty supply of water and calcium to strengthen their shells.
Ms. Waweru says the molluscs contain 15 per cent proteins, 2.4 per cent fat and 80 per cent water. In addition, they are rich in fatty acids, calcium, iron, selenium, magnesium and vitamins E, A, K and B12.
“Snail meat is very safe as the moist soil in which they remain buried beneath during the day to stay safe from predators is sterilized to avoid contamination or bacterial infections
It has very rich qualities and tastes like gizzards. It is easy to prepare. One needs to boil it for five minutes to get rid of the mucus. Once boiled, you can fry it with tomatoes and onions.
To enhance food security, Kenyans need to diversify their choice of foods. Snails are plentiful in counties where people are either starving or malnourished,” she observes.
Giant African land snails are hermaphrodite, which means that they have the reproductive organs for both male and female. A snail produces 300 to 500 eggs in three months, which hatch after 11 to 15 days, enabling one to increase their population faster.
According to her, snails mature after six months. They grow big, but after another six months, their growth stagnates.
Ms. Waweru offers that snails are quite vulnerable to predators such as lizards, caterpillars, rats, ground beetles, termites and spiders. Flies on the other hand lay eggs and the maggots end up eating the snails.
By Anne Mwale/Dennis Rasto