Usoma Beach in Kisumu County was once a quiet neighbourhood years ago, but that was then.
Increased activities at the nearby international airport have seen its airspace become busier as planes land and depart from the facility.
And it is all for the good of farmers like Michael Muchilwa, who live near the airport, as he hopes that one day the planes would transport his farm produce to different parts of the world.
Muchilwa, a snail farmer, is dressed in a maroon checked shirt and a pair of khaki trousers when Seeds of Gold visits him.
A 10m by 10m greenhouse – the snail farm – stands conspicuously in his compound. Muchilwa has partitioned the snail house into four rooms and each contains several plastic basins covered with fine wire mesh to keep predators at bay.
Inside the basins are several snails moving about as they feed on sukuma wiki (collard greens).
“This is my second year in farming snails. I developed interest after attending a trade conference in Ghana. While walking on the streets, people were hawking snails as a delicacy,” recalls Muchilwa.
Giant African land
Interested in the business, he ploughed Sh40,000 from his savings to set up his snail farm in September 2017. The money went into the buying of greenhouse polythene, wire mesh and 100 plastic basins at Sh80 each. He then got a permit from the Kenya Wildlife Service at Sh1,500 and ventured into the business.
The father of six keeps 2,000 snails of the Giant African land variety (Achatinide fulica).
“After getting the KWS permit, I hunted for 50 snails locally. They are big snails measuring 20cm in length when they mature,” says Muchilwa, who has relied extensively on the internet for farming information.
The variety has a dark brown shell with vertical stripes of matching colour. It has two short tentacles and another two long ones with eyes.
Lifespan of a snail
The snails have an average lifespan of 5-7 years, but with good management, they can live up to 10 years.
Giant African snails thrive in hot and humid environment like that in Kisumu. The plastic container has sterilised soil, a bowl of clean water and feeds.
“The soil is sterilised to avoid contamination or bacterial infections. One has the option of burning the soil or solarising it in the sun to kill pathogens,” says the 48-year-old, noting the variety is a nocturnal animal as during the day it remains dormant, buried beneath the moist soil to stay safe from predators.
Muchilwa feeds the slimy creatures on vegetable leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds and tree barks once in a day. Their slippery nature calls for constant supply of water.
“We also feed them egg shells for calcium to strengthen their shell. We boil the egg shells to kill any pathogen, crush into fine powder and sprinkle on the soil.”
Productivity of a snail
Giant African land snail are hermaphrodite, which means that they have the reproductive organs for both male and female. A snail produces 300 to 500 eggs in three months, which hatch after 11 to 15 days, enabling one to increase their population faster.
According to him, snails mature after six months. They grow big, but after another six months, their growth stagnates again.
“I sell a kilo of snail from Sh2,000 to Sh2,500. The demand is high among foreigners,” says the farmers, who sells at least 5kg of snails weekly.
The snails are a common delicacy among communities in West Africa and the farmer has found a niche market among Nigerians, Ghanaians and Asians in the country.
“They love them for their white meat which is rich in proteins and tastes like gizzards. It is easy to prepare. One needs to boil it for five minutes to get rid of the mucus. Once boiled, you can fry it with tomatoes and onions,” says Muchilwa, who has employed two workers to help him run the venture he has christened Agribiz Connections.
Challenge of rearing snails
The challenge with snails he says is their susceptibility to predators.
“Enemies of snails include rats, caterpillars, ground beetles, termites, lizards, spiders and flies. Some like flies lay eggs and the maggots end up eating the snails. One should be keen on pest control to avoid losing the whole stock,” says Muchilwa, who is the Kenya Association of Fundraising Professional chairman.
Christine Boit, a senior KWS official, says the Kenya Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 allows communities to farm animals such as snails, ostriches, snakes and crocodiles.
“Before venturing into these kind of farming, you need to get a permit from us. We normally send a research team to access facility one had before a permit is given.”
She says part of the task of KWS involves periodical monitoring of the management of the snail farms.
“Before selling snails for consumption in hotels or for the export market, one has to be certified. In addition, farmers have to make quarterly reports to KWS.”