Snail farming is a cash cow that has long been neglected in the country, at least, on a commercial scale. With the blanket ban slammed on the importation of poultry and various types of meat, a serious pressure has been exerted on the available conventional sources of food protein like
pork, beef, fish, poultry, sheep, goat etc. These sources are by no means improving and this has worsened the hitherto very high protein intake deficiency of the average Nigerian.
Commercial snail farming can readily come to the rescue of the situation. This art of breeding snails both for domestic consumption and export can be practised by anybody, experienced or not, on any scale (micro, small, medium or large) and with little capital on the part of the farmer contrary to the impression being created by some people that you cannot start a snail farm with anything less than N300,000. In fact, on a micro (backyard) level no capital investment is required.
All one need do is to collect the chosen specie of snails, put them in their natural habitat, give them some minimal attention, go about his normal business and return at least 9 months later to embark on a money-spinning harvest of the grown snails and joyful trips to his bank and provision of meat for his household.
Despite the congenial climate and soil conditions for large-scale commercial snail farming to diversify our export earnings base and provide food and improve protein consumption locally, not much is being done consciously in this direction currently. Hence the need to consider the economic potentials of snail farming especially at this time many governments, NGOs and organisations are talking of reducing unemployment and restiveness among our youths while increasing their financial empowerment.
Types of snail: There are many types of snail but not less than 14 of these are edible. The most popular and most lucrative to breed for consumption and commercial purposes are achachatina marginata, archatina archatina, helix pomatia and helix aspersa. The first two are usually very big, weigh between 150 and 200g, lay between 5 and 300 eggs per batch and 8 times each growing season, and measure 90-130cm in length. The last two species of snail are helical in nature, generally small, weigh 5-25g and lay 30-70 eggs per batch.
The type of snails you will breed will depend on your target market. Local market prefers the big snails (what we call “congo meat” in this part of the world) while the overseas importers from the Mediterranean and some European Union countries prefer the small helical ones, even though the larger ones are now being highly demanded because of their increasing acceptance and growing market opportunities.
Snails are very nutritious. In terms of protein, snail meat compares favorably with beef but unlike beef it’s low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. It contains rich quantities of iron (305mg), energy (80.5Kcal), protein (12-16g), fat (0.05-0.08g), calcium (170mg), phosphorus etc. per 100g of meat. Because of these, snail meat finds great use in the treatment of such killer-diseases as stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, anaemia, asthma, heart beat (palpitations), migraine etc.
Snails have a special substance called galacton (a kind of carbohydrate), which has great immunological value. Snail blood is rich in copper while its shell can be crushed and used to re-enforce cement for building. There is no known disease one can catch from eating cooked snails. This is a plus for snail meat and the breeders of snails.
Snail market potentials
Snail farming potentials for both the local and export markets are highly under-rated. Local snail meat is a toast in homes, restaurants, hotels, ‘bukatarias’, eateries and drinks spots. It helps in no smaller measure to supplement our woefully deficient protein intake. Overseas, snails are a delicacy enjoyed by nationals of many countries especially those bordering the Mediterranean. Others are Italy, France, Greece, Spain, ECOWAS, Portugal, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa etc. Harvested and processed snails can be exported chilled, salted, live, dried, fresh and frozen with or without shells depending on what the target market demands.
Locally, a freshly prepared and fried snail meat is very expensive. It costs between N80 and N200. This high price is caused by insufficiency in supply of live snails to meet the high demand for the meat. This supply inadequacy signals a rewarding investment opportunity for any entrepreneur that ventures into the business no matter the level.
Despite the above situation in the country, snail farming is still a neglected but profitable agribusiness. But this is not so with the French. Their government saw the unexploited goldmine in this and so went for it.
Snails are omnivorous and so can feed with relish on fresh leaves such as cocoyam, cassava, waterleaves etc. They also eat decomposing plant parts, pawpaw fruits, plantain, guava, bananas, oil palm fruits and such food supplements as blood meal and fishmeal. They also eat sand. Calcium carbonate sources such as industrial lime, ground egg shelves, chalk, ground bone meal etc. help the snails’ shell formation and hardness as well as egg laying and their hardness.
When you want to start breeding snails there are many sources from where you can get your foundation stock. Some of them include those farmers that are already in practice, generation of baby snails from your own farm after harvesting, collections from the wild etc. Stocking your pen with baby or about-to-lay snails purchased from the market is scarcely advisable.
Depending on the level, available capital and purpose for which one is breeding snails, this can be done in snail pens, boxes, plantain/banana plantations, cartons, earthen pots, wooden cages, baskets etc. On a cottage level and for the purpose of supplying the family with snail meat, not much capital and space are needed. As a result, wooden boxes, cartons, pots and baskets can be used.
Snails are hermaphrodites i.e. they have both male and female reproductive organs. This means that there’s no difference between male and female snails. This notwithstanding, snails still mate usually during the rainy season or at night. Eggs are laid between one and two weeks after mating. Different species of snail lay different number of eggs per batch and have different number of times they lay their eggs per annum. The eggs range between 8 and 300 while the number of times could be up to eight.
With proper feeding and good management practice, you can have your table-size snails in nine months after you have started breeding. In addition, you can have your supply of baby snails for the expansion of your farm from your foundation stock onwards.