Snail farming is one of the top interesting business opportunities in Africa.
West Africa is home to the largest species of land snail in the world. The Giant African land snail (Achatina species), is known to grow up to 30cm in length and can be found in the dense tropical rain forests across the region from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Ghana to Nigeria.
For hundreds of years, Africa’s appetite for snails has been served through traditional means. Snails handpicked from the bush (usually in the dead of the night) have been the only way to get snails to the market and dinner table.
However, as Africa’s population explodes and our forests continue to be sacrificed to build cities, the (bush) supply of snails cannot keep up with the soaring demand.
This has created an opportunity in the market for snail breeders and farmers who now cultivate these interesting creatures on small farms and in their backyards for impressive profits.
Let’s find out how fast these slow animals can bring in cash….
First, the impressive success story of an African snail farmer…
Snail farming is a niche and unusual business and successful snail farmers like Nigeria’s Ismail Abdulazeez are enjoying the huge rewards of this lucrative but little known venture.
In his interview with CNN (see video below), Ismail, who cultivates snails in large cages in his backyard, shares his experience breeding snails for profit.
His prized products end up in some of the kitchens of high-end hotels in Lagos where they are creatively used to prepare tasty African dishes.
Snails are a great delicacy, and for good reason too…
Snails are a huge part of the diet in many parts of Africa, although they are not always affordable and available all year round. Their high protein, low fat and cholesterol content make them a nutritional favourite.
Snails contain almost all the amino acids needed by the body and most of its by-products are used for cosmetics and medicines.
As our population becomes more interested in healthier living and low-cholesterol diets, snails will become a popular alternative to to all the fatty and non-healthy meats that flood our markets nowadays. They are much cheaper than red meat with greater health benefits on top!
Snails have, for a long time, been a popular and recurring item on the menus of hotels, restaurants and bars where they often feature as boiled, fried and spiced kebabs. They are also a great addition to soups and stews which are a significant part of most African dishes.
Tasty African delicacies featuring the Giant African snail (photo credits: afrolems.com; mamadish.com)
Market Opportunities for Snail Farming in Africa
Most of the snails supplied to the African market are gathered from bushes and forests during the rainy season (usually between April and September).
Because snails are very dormant during the dry season, they become increasingly scarce during this period and the market is starved of adequate supply until the next wet season. This makes the supply of snails very seasonal in many parts of Africa where they serve as food.
As a consequence, snails can fetch much higher prices during the dry season (December to March) when supply often does not keep up with demand.
Snails may go on break during the dry seasons but the human appetite for its taste always remains, and continues to grow throughout the year. And to think that several festivities take place during the dry season (Christmas et al), makes this a first choice agribusiness.
Due to steadily growing demand from customers, hotels and restaurants are always in need of snail delicacies on their menus. And given the significant upside to the profits that can be made, it makes a lot of sense to take maximum advantage of this market when the supply of snails is significantly short.
There is also growing demand in Europe for giant African snails. Apart from their great taste, many people abroad like to keep them as pets and keepsakes due to their sheer size (I was surprised too!). But never mind, you are likely to be very busy satisfying the local demand to bother about exports.
However, it’s still good to know that such foreign market opportunities exist for this small business. If you’re interested in exports, you could read up the How to export to the USA and Europe section of our Dried and Smoked fish export article.
Giant African snails are a popular sight on Africa’s interstate and transnational highways (photo credit: Frans Lanting)
Success tips for aspiring Snail farming in Africa
As a Smallstarter, your primary goal should be to take advantage of the seasonality of this market in order to gain premium prices for your snails. Target the high-end customers (hotels, restaurants and households) who can afford to pay a premium for a steady supply of the product.
If you supply all year round, you are likely to earn lesser during the rainy seasons (when supply is in abundance) and more in the dry seasons (when the product is scarce).
You could buy cheaply from the villages and other remote areas while the supply is up during the rainy season and maintain a healthy stock of large snails that you can unleash on your customers when supply falls in the dry season.
But to achieve this, there is a very important condition. The size of your snails must be large and ‘intimidating’ enough to command a premium (high) price.
For this to happen, you must start your snail farm with the right species (the Giant African type) and ensure that you apply proper breeding, stocking and feeding practices to achieve the huge sizes that will make you a highly sought after supplier.
If your snails are bred well, they should start to reach market size from six to twelve months, although some farmers like to leave theirs for much longer. (photo credit: msn.com)
Presently, more than 90 percent of the snails supplied to our local markets are picked from the forests. While this has been the traditional supply source, our growing population and rising rural to urban migration rates make it unsustainable.
An artificial intervention like snail farming is the only way to satisfy the growing demand. And as long as a huge chunk of the market depends on snails captured in the wild, nobody can assure a steady and consistent supply of large snails like a farmer who breeds snails in his/her backyard!
Some things you should consider before you start a snail farm…
In terms of cost and time, snail farming is a low risk business. Unlike many other livestock businesses, snail farming requires very little startup and operating costs.
It can be run from your backyard (if you have a sizeable one) or on that piece of land wasting away in your neighbourhood or village.
Snails are friendly to the environment and their droppings are not offensive (unlike pigs and poultry) so there’s no chance an angry neighbor will come knocking.
Snails also multiply really fast laying up to 100 eggs in one go. Because snails are hermaphrodites (have both male and female sexual organs), they get to mate easily throughout the year. This high reproduction rate has made snails a pest in many regions of the world.
However, it’s this fast reproductive ability that makes these slow creatures a delight to an entrepreneur. Snails can give very high returns on your initial investment if you do your homework well and target niche and repeat customers. (photo credit: scientificamerican.com)
An interesting resource for snail farming in Africa
A Practical Guide to Snail Farming: This 78-page guide is unbelievably FREE and contains everything (theory and practice) you’ll ever need to start and succeed in a snail farming business. It covers all areas of the subject and even offers tips on how to market your snails.
Many thanks to the guys at openideo.com for this wonderful resource!
If you have any experience in this area, we’re sure a lot of people reading this would love to learn from you. Please leave a comment in the section below or share this opportunity with a friend.
To your success!
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