Snail is a relatively unheard of delicacy in East Africa, and especially in Kenya, a vast difference from West African countries where snails are a common sight on menus. While for some people, the thought of eating snail meat may be repulsive, snail farming has emerged as a business trend in the region. This trend has been led by Rosemary Odinga who runs Shelltops Ltd, the only snail farm in East Africa. The Kenyan grows giant African land snails (which grow to incredible sizes) which she sells to gourmet restaurants and foreigners. The dish is rich in nutrients including iron and calcium, and is also very delicious.
The practice, known as heliculture, has proven to be a profitable enterprise for those who are keen on ensuring that the snails are well cared for. There are several factors to consider in snail rearing, including the snail species, predatory pests, an appropriate level of moisture, reproduction, the construction of a snailery, and disease control. Similarly, one must consider the feed for snails. These include vegetables such as kale, fruits, tubers, and flowers. Additionally, in Kenya some snails are considered wild by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). As a result, a farmer must adhere to strict wildlife standards so as to obtain a license to rear them.
There are different methods of rearing snails including the free range system where the snails are allowed to roam around in a garden. Alternatively, there is the greenhouse system where snails are kept in protected structures. The snails must also be slaughtered in an ethical and humane way so as to fit in with international standards.
However, its relative ease compared to rearing livestock still makes it an attractive venture. The costs of starting the enterprise are low and its returns are often high, due to the lack of supply in the market. There is also the option to export them to European countries that do not have native African species. Moreover, it fetches high prices whenever the snails are not in season. So, are there more budding heliculturalists in the rest of East Africa? While Rosemary remains the only established snail farmer in East Africa, there has been growing interest in the practice. It is likely that in the years to come, a growing market and supply chain will have come into play in the Kenyan economy.