Nigerian snail farmers say the industry could become a huge money-making machine for farmers if given proper attention by the government.
The farmers, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES within the week, said the heliculture (snail farming) value chain holds so many opportunities yet to be properly harnessed.
Also, some farmers said there is a high demand for the African giant land snail species domestically and overseas because of the huge health benefits derived from its flesh and raw materials (such as shells and slime).
However, the farmers said the lack of support from the government, as well as some of its policies, are greatly affecting the business in the country.
Heliculture is described as the act of rearing or raising snails specifically for flesh, slime, eggs, or other economic uses.
Very few individuals are making a fortune from snail farming, despite being a very lucrative venture with enormous benefits and huge market potential.
Interestingly, in the first three quarters of 2020, the agricultural sector contributed an average of 29.77 per cent to Nigeria’s GDP – 21.96 per cent in the first quarter; 24.65 per cent in the second quarter; and 30.77 per cent in thethird quarter.
The sector is made up of four sub-activities: Crop Production, Livestock, Forestry, and Fishing.
Livestock under the agriculture sector, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) GDP report, grew by 2.29 per cent in the third quarter of 2020 from 2.26 per cent in the second quarter of this year and 0.02 per cent in the third quarter of 2019.
These species are terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusks in the family Achatinidae which can grow up to 20 cm long, and live up to 10 years.
Anthony Onyedikachi, director and CEO, Dikafarms and Consult, who has run a snail farm in Abuja for almost a decade, said snail farmers face management challenges as snail breeding is technical.
“Management of the snails at dry season becomes challenging for farmers to keep them active. Providing the right humidity and creating a temperature balance during the hot season can be problematic for farmers depending on the geographic locations of the farms,” he said.
Unlike other livestock businesses, such as poultry, fish farming and piggery, he said there is little or no scientific research in the development of snail farming in the country.
“Most times during disease infection, the snails are left at the mercy of recovering from the infection naturally without medication or they will die off,” Mr Onyedikachi said.
“In Nigeria, snail farmers, rural women and children in rural communities contribute to the availability of snail meat as they scan through our forests to handpick and hunt for snails during the rainy season,” he said.
According to him, “at the onset of the dry season, the is a drastic shortfall in the availability of snail meat as snails hibernate and go into hiding in the wild to protect themselves from harsh and unfavourable weather conditions”.
During the period of October-March each year, Mr Onyedikachi said they are left with little supply from farms to serve the high demand for snail meat at this period, which makes it a very expensive and scarce commodity.
He said some farmers may also not be willing to sell snails at this period as they would like to keep their snails for the next breeding season.
Oko Agbahi, Director, @Galsfarm(Giant African Land Snails), who has been into commercial snail production for over 5 years and runs snail farms in Cross River State and Lagos simultaneously, said the major challenges to heliculture in Nigeria range from lack of access to capital, ignorance to lack of infrastructure.
Akinbami Oluwagbenga, a graduate of animal science and nutrition from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), who has been into snail farming for over two decades, said the challenges bedeviling snail farmers are many.
He said because it takes a longer period for snails to mature and attract profit, most financial institutions or establishments are not always willing to give out loans to snail farmers.
Also, he said the unavailability of improved breeds for culturing poses huge challenges.
“Most of the snail farmers we have in Nigeria are not grounded on the improved way of rearing snails. Very limited technical know-how,” Mr Oluwagbenga said.
Mr Oluwagbenga also cited a lack of adequate processing facilities for snails.
Sunny Snail Farm’s director, Sunny Enwerem, a graduate of Agricultural Economics and Extension from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology(LAUTECH), said the lack of foreign exchange has affected the exportation of snails.
“I had a branch in Switzerland where I supply snails for at least five months in a year, but when the Buhari government entered, the exportation totally stopped due to the issues of foreign exchange,” he said.
“Despite the embargo placed on exportation to Europe till date, even as we speak, I still get messages to supply life snails to the U.S. for study. But this is no longer possible,” he added.
Alexander Odiabo, a professor of parasitology and malacology at the University of Ibadan, said the most pressing challenge faced by farmers in recent times is the “invasive species.”
“The species that were not known in Nigeria before are increasing in numbers now and those invasive species will continue to displace our original species. This is an area I think the government has to look into, so as to curtail its spread.”
The development of scientific research under the purview of the Heliculture industry will go a long way towards harnessing the viable potentials available along the snail farming value chains, Mr Onyedikachi said.
He said this will boost the availability of serum which serves as raw material for cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries in America, Europe and Asia.
However, Mr Onyedikachi said the global snail farming industry is worth over $12 billion with a total worldwide consumption of about 425,000 tons per year.
The exportation of snail meat is also a niche in the Heliculture industry that has not been attended to, Mr Onyedikachi said.
“The demand for our local species (the Giant African Land Snail) in Europe and America is very high especially in African restaurants and shops, due to its fleshy meat and large sizes.
“It’s booming currently as we have entered the scarce period of snail meat, so most times we sell at a higher price this period,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Agbahi said heliciculture as a farming practice by itself is highly untapped.
“The future is in slime production and processing for cosmetic companies. This is a money-making machine that has not been touched, we have not even scratched the surface of slime production in Nigeria,” he said.
Experts believe that more involvement by the private sector will enhance the prospects of the industry.
Meanwhile, other experts said snail farmers need funding from the government, in order to expand their farms so as to cater to the demands of snail meat in the market.