When some entrepreneurs introduced commercial snail farming into the country a few years ago, many were surprised that the odd looking molluscs could be food and a source of income.
However, researchers at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have taken snail farming a notch higher by pioneering research on snail value addition to make the venture more rewarding to farmers.
Researchers at the university’s horticultural department are currently making skincare products from the snail’s mucin, pointing out that snail slime has medicinal effects.
Dr Paul Kinoti, a scientist leading the research at JKUAT, explains that the molluscs produce a secretion known as slime or mucin which can be used to make cosmetics.
The African giant snail is the most preferable breed for meat and slime. The snails are fed on fruits and vegetables and their housing demand is also quite modest since they can be bred in wooden boxes or even old tires as long a low temperature environment is guaranteed.
Nevertheless, before one begins rearing snails he must get a “no objection” letter from the National Museum of Kenya, then head to the Kenya Wildlife Service for a rearing permit. This is because snails are considered wildlife.
Scientists say the snails are a good source of protein for their high level of Omega 3.
Dr Kinoti notes that production of snail mucin skincare products is currently underway and will hit the market once they get a nod from Kenya Bureau of Standards.
“The extraction process of the slime, however, requires a lot of capital. Currently, the university imports the machine used for extraction for $5 million (about Sh500 million),” says Dr Kinoti.
Ivy Rosio, a student who is part of the snail research team at JKUAT, says they are training farmers on snail farming besides selling snail stocks to them. “Those planning to venture into the business are given 30 African giant snails which cost about Sh10,000,” she says.
She says snails can be used to make a wide range of market products such as liquid soap, face creams, fertiliser and organic feeds.
The venture is, however, not quite popular in Kenya as it has been in West Africa and Asian countries such as China and Japan.