Niche crops are specialized crops for which there is a very particular but limited market. Raising snails may not be the most common type of farming, but they can be an important niche market in some areas. Like many other agricultural activities, raising snails can provide income to support families.
In the past, snails were abundant in the forest, and farmers simply gathered them for meals. There was no need for people to raise them. However, continuous degradation of the forest and bush burning has damaged snail habitat and made it difficult for people to find snails as they used to.
Snails are eaten in large numbers in southern Ghana and in most parts of Africa. But, though snail is considered a delicacy in the southern part of Ghana, most people in central and southern Africa do not eat snails. In Ghana, raising snails is a recent agricultural activity. But research has shown that it is a cost-effective and profitable farming activity that does not demand a lot of start-up money or time.
The following is an interview with an agricultural extension officer about how to raise snails.
Crops and animals officer: Mr. Ayobi Samuel
Kwabena Agyei: Good morning listeners. As you know, on this program we talk about things we need to do on our farms, and any other news that benefits us as farmers. In the past, it was easy to go to a nearby forest to gather snails for our meals. But nowadays they have become scarce. This may be due to indiscriminate bush burning and other activities that destroy the forest. Today we have Mr. Ayobi Samuel of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, to tell us how we can raise snails ourselves for food and profit.
Kwabena Agyei: Good morning (afternoon, evening), Mr. Ayobi.
Mr Ayobi: Good morning (afternoon, evening).
Kwabena Agyei: Can you tell me something about snails?
Mr. Ayobi: Snails mostly live in the forest and are seasonal animals. I say seasonal because you won’t find them in the dry season, but they are abundant in the rainy season. Snails are mostly found in forest areas where humidity is high and rainfall ranges between 70 to 90 centimetres per year. Snails do best when the average temperature is about 25 degrees. They are consumed in large numbers in the southern part of Ghana and in most forest areas of West Africa. Snails contain calcium and other nutrients that are needed by the body.
Kwabena Agyei: Can you tell us now about raising snails? How is that done?
Mr. Ayobi: Raising snails means gathering snails from the wild or buying them in the market place, keeping them in an appropriate environment, and feeding them so that they multiply. Then you can sell them to make money. They are also sometimes dried for use as medicine.
Kwabena Agyei: How can somebody start raising snails?
Mr. Ayobi: Before you start raising snails, you should go to the forest and look at the conditions there. Think about why snails live in the forest but not in savannah or desert areas. What are the conditions in the forest that they like? Because, if you want to bring them inside the house, you must create conditions that resemble the forest in which they live. If you bring them to a dry place, they will die. So you must try as much as possible to maintain those forest-like conditions.
Kwabena Agyei: What are those forest-like conditions?
Mr. Ayobi: Well, the forest is usually cool and moist. We can recreate those cool conditions by digging a pit which is two metres long, one metre deep and one metre wide. Lay two layers of blocks or bricks at the bottom of the pit. Then fill the pit with a little more than one-half metre of topsoil or black soil. You must use good topsoil, soil that conserves moisture. If you use just any soil, it will dry up and cake and the snails will die. Add about 15 centimetres of dry leaves, preferably dry cocoa leaves, on top of the soil. You can also use dry plantain or banana leaves or other leaves which do not easily rot and will retain moisture. But don’t use teak leaves or any other leaves that can’t retain moisture. The remaining area – a depression about 15 centimetres deep, will be where the snails come out to feed and where water and food would be placed.
Kwabena Agyei: Is there a cover for the pit?
Mr. Ayobi: Yes, you should cover the pit with narrow-weaved wire mesh or netting attached to a five centimetre by five centimetre wooden board for a gate. The mesh stops the snails from leaving the pit, and prevents houseflies and other predators from entering. You should also build a wooden shed which shades the entire pit.
Kwabena Agyei: How big should the shed be?
Mr. Ayobi: It should be two metres tall, so that you can walk under the roof easily.
Kwabena Agyei: What should be used for the roofing of the shed?
Mr. Ayobi: It should be roofed with thatch, palm fronds or branches. Do not use iron sheets since they generate heat and kill the snails. A thatched roof will keep the pit very cool and safe from direct sunshine. After building the shed, put the animals in the pit.
Kwabena Agyei: Thank you, Mr. Ayobi. We will be back after a short musical break to hear about raising and feeding snails. We will also hear that there are no female and male snails! Stay tuned.
Kwabena Agyei: How can a farmer find snails to raise?
Mr. Ayobi: Right now, we don’t have improved types of snails. So what farmers normally do is go to the forest and gather them, or buy them in the market place. After the farmer gets the snails, they should be washed thoroughly with ordinary water. Then the healthy ones without cracked shells or wounds should be sorted from the others.
Kwabena Agyei: So if snails have cracks and wounds, you shouldn’t raise them?
Mr. Ayobi: That’s correct.
Kwabena Agyei: Why not?
Mr. Ayobi: They will die. A snail with a crack will become rotten. So we don’t advise that you use damaged snails. Use only the very healthy ones.
Kwabena Agyei: After washing them, what do you do next?
Mr. Ayobi: After washing, you keep them in a basket with a lid on the top for at least three days. In this way, you will know which ones are healthy and which are sick. By the end of the third day, the healthy ones will be active and feeding well but the weak ones will be sluggish or even dead. Also, the healthy ones will be moving toward the top of the basket while the weak ones will be at the bottom. Thus, it is easy to determine which ones are healthy and which are weak.
Kwabena Agyei: How many snails should go into one pit?
Mr. Ayobi: For adult snails, those that are ready to lay eggs, you can put fifty healthy snails in a pit. For smaller ones, you put one hundred in a pit.
Kwabena Agyei: How can you know whether a snail is young or old?
Mr. Ayobi: You can know through the size. The big ones are adults and ready to lay eggs. The smaller ones are younger.
Kwabena Agyei: What do snails eat?
Mr. Ayobi: They eat green vegetables. They also eat cocoyam leaves, pawpaw leaves, cabbages, and any green leaves except for grasses. You can also give them pawpaw fruit, banana, oranges, pineapple, cabbages, cassava tubers, palm fruits and any fruit which people eat. You can sometimes give them eggshells. This may help to heal any cracks in their shells. But you must clean the pit and pick up all leftover food every day. There should be water too, in a shallow pan, because the snails drink and swim in water. Because snails feed mostly at night, you should provide food for them in the evening.
Kwabena Agyei: Can you talk about how they reproduce or make young snails?
Mr. Ayobi: There are no male or female snails. Every mature snail lays eggs. A snail can lay at least 200 eggs per season.
Kwabena Agyei: How long is a season?
Mr Ayobi: Snails lay eggs in the rainy season, which may be about six months, let’s say from March to September, depending on where you live. If you keep the pit very moist, they can lay eggs anytime. But generally they lay eggs every six months. When they start to lay eggs you must prepare another pit. You should remove all the big snails in the pit to a new pit. They lay the eggs and bury them in the soil. The eggs take about one month to hatch. But you must be careful. If you leave the eggs in the old pit, the bigger snails may eat the smaller snails.
Kwabena Agyei: How long does it take for the younger ones to reach maturity?
Mr. Ayobi: From hatching to the adult stage takes about one and a half to two years. Then they can be eaten!
Kwabena Agyei: We will be back to hear about some of the challenges with raising snails. And how to solve these challenges! Stay tuned.
Kwabena Agyei: Listeners, welcome back. Mr Ayobi, let us now talk about some of the difficulties with raising snails.
Mr. Ayobi: The main problem is feeding. I have said that they eat green vegetables. But it is difficult to get green vegetables in many areas during the dry season. This means that you have to travel somewhere to get green vegetables. This can be a big problem. In Techiman municipality in central Ghana, we trained about 270 farmers in snail rearing. But now we have only ten left because of problems with feeding. So the feeding is a big problem. Another problem is pest infestation. Certain types of ants may enter the pit and eat the snails. Houseflies can also lay eggs on the flesh. When these eggs hatch, the fly maggots feed on the flesh of the snails and kill them.
Kwabena Agyei: How can these problems be solved?
Mr. Ayobi: Through training. When a farmer is trained, he or she learns the skills to take good care of the animals. For example, if you find ants in your pit, you must take the snails out of the pit, remove the soil from the pit, and replace it with new soil. But, before you add the new topsoil to the pit, grind leaves of the neem tree, mix them with water and soak it into the soil. Don’t use any chemicals. If you do, the snails will be killed. As for green vegetables in the dry season, a farmer can get green vegetables from marshy areas or riverbanks near where they live. Farmers may also want to plant some greens which produce during the dry season to feed the snails.
Kwabena Agyei: Are there any other important things you would like us to know about caring for snails?
Mr. Ayobi: It’s a very good idea to change the leaves which are on top of the soil every two or three months. And also, make sure every week to remove any dead snails from the pit.
Kwabena Agyei: Can farmers make money raising snails?
Mr. Ayobi: Yes, of course. From December until March, three snails sell for 20,000 cedis (use local currency). Though people don’t usually value snails, they can provide a good income. Remember that one pit can hold about 100 snails, and each can lay about 200 eggs.
Kwabena Agyei: Why do you think people have not been interested in raising snails?
Mr. Ayobi: Many people want fast money. They think that you can start an enterprise today and tomorrow you will see lots of cash. This is why many farmers stopped. Also, if you don’t house the snails well, they will die. Snails don’t like excessive heat and houseflies. As soon as houseflies land on the flesh, it creates a sore which will kill the snail. Most farmers also failed because of poor management. But, if you take care of them well and don’t expect fast money, you can certainly make a good income from raising snails.
Kwabena Agyei: Mr. Ayobi, thank you for all your wisdom on raising snails. We will be back after a short break.
Kwabena Agyei: Mr. Ayobi, can you give our listeners a summary of all that you have said?
Mr. Ayobi: Certainly. To start, dig a pit two metres long, one metre wide and one metre deep. Add two layers of bricks or blocks to the bottom of the pit. Then fill the pit with a little more than one-half metre of topsoil. After the topsoil, add 15 centimetres of dry cocoa leaves. If you can’t get cocoa leaves, use dry banana or plantain leaves. Then, build a shed over the pit to provide shade. The shed should be two metres tall.
Now you are ready to go to the market to buy the snails or gather them from the forest. Select the healthy ones and remove the damaged ones. Wash them thoroughly with ordinary water. Place the healthy snails in a basket for about three days to make sure that you are keeping the healthy ones in the pit. Then add the animals to the pit. After this, you must feed them everyday. They eat cocoyam leaves, plantain leaves, green vegetables and fruits. The pits should be cleaned everyday to keep houseflies from infecting the snails. If the snails start laying eggs, prepare a new pit and transfer the big ones into it to keep the smaller ones from being eaten.
Kwabena Agyei: Farmers and listeners, we have been treated to some simple but important advice today on how to raise snails. We can now raise them in the home rather than going to the bush to find them. Let us try it. As Mr. Ayobi says, raising snails can bring a very good profit. I thank you for listening. Mr Ayobi, we thank you very much for speaking to us. I am sure the information will help us to raise snails in this area. I am your host Kwabena Agyei. Bye for now.