Dressed in a green apron, black trousers and gumboots, Rose Waweru looks keenly at the hundreds of creatures crawling inside wooden boxes.
She is a snail farmer, keeping the slimy creatures on her farm in Lanet, Nakuru. She is the sole snail farmer in the county, an honour she is carrying with great pride.
“This is the only snail breeding farm in this area,” says Rose with a huge smile. “Some people say I am mad because I am keeping snails but only the wearer of a shoe knows where it hurts.”
The mother of three keeps the Giant African snail (Achatinide fulica), having started the agribusiness with Sh40,000.
The enabled her to buy cement, timber, wire mesh and iron sheets, which she used to make snail houses. She also bought plastic basins and feeds.
“I later got a permit from the Kenya Wildlife Service at Sh1,500, which one must have because snails are considered wild.”
She started with 17 snails, which died later but she then restocked and they multiplied to over 3,000, the current number.
“When I started out, I did not have good knowledge on the venture but I visited farmers in Siaya and Kisumu for practical lessons, which sharpened my skills,” says Rose, whose target is to keep 10,000 snails. She rears her snails in a five-by-three-metre pen, which is about 1.5m high.
The structure is filled with loose soil where they lay eggs. On the soil she constantly sprinkles rainwater to keep its moist.
“I don’t use tap water because it has chlorine, which kills the snails,” she offers, noting they mature between six and eight months, when they start laying eggs.
She has partitioned the snail house into four rooms. Three rooms contain mature snails while the fourth one has young ones. They are covered with a green plastic wiremesh to ward off predators.
“Housing should be done in a way that predators like lizards, snakes, ants, spiders and flies won’t be able to intrude,” says Rose.
She feeds them sukuma wiki (collard greens), carrots and cabbages, which she has planted on a section of her eighth-acre.
“I also feed them limestone and egg shells for calcium to strengthen their shells. I boil the egg shells to kill any pathogen, crush them into fine powder and sprinkle on the soil. I feed them twice a day.”
This is the second year she is into snail farming. The farmer says she was attracted to the venture while on a trip to Uganda.
“I was in a Kampala market and I noticed a man eating snails. That was the turning point. I didn’t travel back home until I learnt how to cook and rear them,” Rose, who is 35, recalls.
According to her, the snails produce 150 to 200 eggs each in three months, which hatch after 11 to 15 days, which has enabled her to increase their population faster.
“Many look down upon this business because they hate snails and some associate them with evil spirits but they are a money-maker.”
Rose sells a kilo of live snails at between Sh1,500 and Sh2,000, while those that are partially cooked and without shells go for Sh3,000 a kilo.
“I sell them to West Africans, Mexicans, Japanese and Asian nationals living in the country. The market is insatiable because currently I am unable to meet a 30kg order weekly,” says Rose, who adds value to the snail by cooking, earning more income.
She further sells shells at Sh50 per piece and if it is decorated, it goes for Sh300. Hygiene is key in snail farming, she says.
“If you keep the snails house clean, you won’t struggle with diseases. Snails dehydrate at a high rate and need a moist, dark environment. Exposing them to the wind also affects productivity.”
She gets the soil she puts in the snail houses from Dundori Forest, noting it is free of pathogens. Before harvesting the creatures, one must check the shells, which indicate if they are mature.
“If the brim is thicker than the rest of the shell, then you know it’s ready for the market,” says Rose.
Dr Gerald Mkoji, a Kenya Medical Research Institute research scientist, says farmers rearing land snails in a confined space should avoid overcrowding as this brings competition during feeding.
“They should ensure their creatures are kept in a clean environment because a dirty pens makes then unhappy and reduces the production rate.”
Dr Mkoji adds that during breeding, they need additional care and must be fed very well with calcium to develop strong shells.
Get it fast
Rich diet that is the snail
Snails are very rich in protein that contains low calories compared to other meats. The protein they provide is important for building and repairing muscles.
Eating snails could be a solution to iron deficiency and helps curb malnutrition.
Selenium in snails is key to the human body since it keeps the heartbeat regular, immune system healthy and protects cells against damage.