Raising snails for food is called heliculture. Snails are hermaphroditic and this means that each snail has both the male and female reproductive organs to reproduce fertile eggs. Snail is a very healthy source of protein, phosphorus, calcium and iron, and low in fats, sodium and cholesterol. There are many species of edible snails, and they vary in shape, size and colour.
Snail farming is considered to be one of the sustainable agribusinesses in Ghana, but it requires a little investment, depending on the scale, capable of giving returns after year. Many farmers across Ghana who are commercial snail framers testify to the economic profit of snail framing.
In Ghana there are various breeds of snail and they are milk snail (Otala lacteal), white garden snail (Theba pisana), garden snail (Cornu aspersum), Burgundy snail (Helix pomatia) and the most popular African giant snail (Achatina achatina). The giant Africa snail is the best species for heliculture due to its prolificacy and economic size.
Feed your snails early in the morning and later in the night, and provide drinking water. Common feeds include fruits and vegetables like banana, watermelon, cabbage, carrot, pawpaw, lettuce, cucumber, potato, pumpkin, plantain, etc. Snails also feed on green leaves and human crumbs that have no salt. They also need calcium to grow shells and therefore, egg shells and limestone should be incorporated into their feeds.
Water leaves, cocoyam, pawpaw, okra, cassava, eggplant, cabbage, lettuce and banana leaves are ideal. Leftovers at home such as rice, beans, pap, corn, staples, and others without salt could also be fed to snails regularly.
Calcium is the single most important factor in the feeding of snails, because low calcium intake will slow down the growth rate and cause the shells to be thinner and susceptible to cracking. Calcium can be set out in a feeding dish so the snails can eat it at will.
According to a local snail farmer, Mr. God’s Will Mark, “Snails drink a lot of water, and absence of adequate water supply can make them easily dehydrate, which can lead to infertility and stunting in the snails.”
If there is drought, snails can hibernate for up to two years, as is the case for desert snails, but at these periods, their growth is retarded. Cultured snails, therefore, should not be made to experience dehydration.
The size of the farm determines the housing styles and sizes. Housing size determines the comfort of cultured snails. For commercial farming, it is necessary to acquire a permanent farmland. Snail can be reared in boxes made of suitable substances like wire gauze (net) and woods.
There are different kinds of snaileries that can be built. Some factors have to be taken into consideration, such as the snails’ stage of development and habits.
This means sorting of snails by age into newly hatched, young and mature snails. It is important to note that younger snails would require more comfortable housing, which should be protected to prevent predators. Snails thrive in dark and humid places; hence avoidance of direct sunlight or heat is necessary.
Mr. God’s Will mark also shared his opinion saying “You can use fresh leaves and cloth to regulate the temperature. Snails are easily dehydrated, and wind increases the rate of moisture loss in snail housing, which leads to dryness for the animal.”
To prevent snails from losing water quickly, the snail house must be located in an environment that is protected from the wind. A commercial snail farmer, Mr. Olusiji Samuel, advised that, “The snails should be watered in the mornings and at night to regulate temperature.” He also added, “the cost of construction of a snail pen ranges from 15,000 to 20,000 Naira (227.26 to 303.01 Ghana cedis). It is necessary to separate the big snails from the small ones once they start growing.”
The snail’s major habitat is the soil, and soil contains some of the components and chemical substances that it needs to survive. The soil type should be rich and contain a high level of organic matter. The suitable soil for snail farming is sandy-loamy soil, with low water holding capacity. Soil must be balanced, not waterlogged, because the snail also lays its eggs and drinks water out of the soil. The shell of the snail is mainly calcium and it derives most of it from the soil.
Pests and diseases
Termites, lizards, snakes, ants, chickens, geese and turkeys are the common predators of snails and should be prevented by all means. There are not many diseases identified in snail, but fungus and bacterial diseases that are spread by contact have been noticed in overcrowded pens.
God’s Will Mark again said, “Look out for pest or pathogens such as parasites, nematodes and fungi, as well as rats, mice, moles, skunks, weasels, birds, frogs, toads and lizards.” Mr. Olusiji also indicated, “Termites, ants and earthworms are major pests for snails and can kill the animals if not removed on time.”
Snails lay eggs between ages eight and 12 months when they are sexually mature, the fertile eggs hatch between four and six weeks. They don’t have a defined breeding period, and on average they lay five to six clutches of eggs per year, containing on average 200 eggs per clutch if there are the right conditions.
After hatching, the baby snail stays in the soil for two to five days. The prolific nature of reproduction and the market value (high demand) of snail would compensate farmers for its long maturity period of about two years. The hatchlings should be put in a separate pen to give them available space to grow and maximum protection.
Maturity takes about two years. Only mature snails should be harvested. Check the brim of the shell; if it is mature enough, the brim should be thicker and harder than other parts of the shell. Do not harvest all the mature ones for the market. Keep a few for breeding and to serve as base stock. Mr. Mark said, “You can use containers, bowls, boxes and baskets to harvest snails and10kg per pack is usually ideal because of the high fragility of snails.”
Economics of snail rearing
You can conveniently earn large income from snail rearing because feeding them is cost-effective, and the business could be done part-time. The snail meat attracts premium price, especially in the dry seasons.
You can keep your present job and do this on part time since it doesn’t require much time. To start a commercial snail business of 100 snails, about N70, 000 is required because you require N20, 000 for the snail pen and about N50, 000 for the seed snails. A mature snail can fetch from as much as N300 to N800 in the market, depending on the size and season.
Snail is an export commodity, which has value next to gold in overseas countries. It is a foreign exchange income earner. Our climate is one of the best in snail breeding. Snail farming in Ghana requires small capital and the running cost is very low.
Snail farmers usually sell their produce at hotels, restaurants, to market women, large supermarkets/groceries, and even export to other countries. Currently, the demand for snail is higher than the supply. Therefore, the market potential of snail is inexhaustible locally and internationally.