Some 10km from Migori town in Uriri sub county sits Dolly Rajuai farm on which she rears what many might find unpalatable.
Rajuai is a snail farmer, following in the footsteps of Rosemary Odinga, the only renowned keeper in the country.
Seeds of Gold team finds her dressed in a black overall and orange gumboots attending to the snails.
“Some of them had walked out of their nets and I am returning them,” she says.
Dolly embraced the unique farming thanks to her daughter Jackline, who works in Nigeria.
“Sometime late last year my daughter told me she had a brilliant agribusiness idea and shared it with me. At first I was surprised but she convinced me how good it was.” Dolly had a piece of land on which she was farming vegetables, so she turned it into a snail farm.
They started the venture small on her three acres in October 2016 as a hobby, with 12 normal snails that they got from the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Two types of snails
The snails did well that after three months they started laying eggs. They were later harvested and her daughter went with them to Nigeria.
Having gained experience, Dolly and her daughter invested in two types of snails, namely the Giant African land and the Helix Aspersa variety, which are tiny and can live for up to five years.
She has since constructed several boxes which hosts her 7,000 Helix snails at their various stages of growth. She further keeps about 20 of the Giant breeding stock in a separate box.
The structures in which she keeps the Helix snails measure about 3m by 20m. The snails need plenty of space therefore must never be overcrowded.
“We keep them in containers resembling basins, which must be filled with soil and sprinkled with water to remain moist,” says Dolly, who gets knowledge on how to rear the creatures from books.
She feeds the snails on sukuma wiki, fruits in particular watermelon and water. “We also add lime to harden their shells. We feed them only once, at night,” she says, noting the food is placed in the boxes and the snails feed on it.
According to her, snails thrive well in cool temperatures and wet surfaces, which enable them to multiply during the rainy season.
“During the day, the snails sleep but eat a lot in the night,” says the mother of four.
The farmer is readying to start harvesting as she frantically looks for certification from the Kenya Bureau of Standards to enable her get good market.
The most dangerous enemy to snails are ants which get into the shell and feed on their tentacles. Then they dry and die.
“Again insects attack snails but they cannot be sprayed since that may interfere with them. The only secret to keeping them free from insects is to maintain cleanliness,” she advises.
She has since harvested once and sold to a foreign family at Sh20,000 per kilo. However, her targeted market is in West Africa, where snails are a delicacy.
How to prepare a snail for the market
Dr Charles Midega, a scientist at International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), says though snail keeping requires low capital as compared to other types of farming, farmers need to be knowledgeable before venturing into it.
“It is not a walk in the park, if you don’t know it, you run into greater losses. One needs to get an expert to walk her through but generally it is a profitable farming venture when one gets it right,” said Dr Midega.
Snails are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexual organs and all of them lay eggs after every three months.
To prepare them before they hit the market, some farmers use hot water while others use chemicals to suffocate them.
Use of chemicals is not encouraged since most people are always allergic to them.
The best way is to place them in water and boil until the slime comes out. They are then boiled again. Then scooped with a special spoon and packed and frozen.