Heliculture, popularly known as snail farming, is a process of raising snails for consumption, commercialisation and other economic uses. Currently, the snail market has proven to be commercially viable, boosted by a guaranteed net marketing income and net returns recorded by producers, wholesalers, retailers and all stakeholders engaged in the business.
To ensure a better understanding of the snail farming business in Nigeria, Business A.M’s ONOME AMUGE interviewed ADEBOYE OMOLE, an experienced livestock specialist and micro-livestock research professor at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), one of Nigeria’s foremost national agricultural research institutes located in Ibadan, Oyo State. Excerpts:
Based on your extensive research on snail farming in Nigeria, what are your major observations and achievements?
My research activities with other professional colleagues on snail farming in Nigeria began almost twenty years ago. At that time, the snail farming business was relatively new and this prompted me to do my Masters project and PhD on snail farming. Beforehand,
snails were fed on water leaves, pawpaw peels, cocoyam leaves and so on, just to ensure their survival and growth without giving attention to their basic nutritional requirements. We also noted that many of these items cannot be easily gotten in urban areas making it difficult for many people in these areas to engage in snail farming. This led to our research into feed formulation. We first of all determined the required nutrient requirements for the snails. We were able to determine the protein requirement which is around 24 to 26 per cent. We also determined the calcium requirement, which is four to five per cent, and the phosphorus requirement was discovered to be 1.2 per cent. Talking about the salt intake of snails, we discovered that they need about 1.2 per cent salt in their nutrition. With this knowledge, we were able to formulate feed using locally available feed ingredients at affordable cost to enhance snail productivity. So, instead of gathering pawpaw leaves, pawpaw fruits, cassava leaves and the likes to feed the snails, the farmers can now use formative rations instead; and this helps in improving the productivity in terms of weight gauge, shell length, shell width and reproductive performance.
Another area of research gave rise to the development of what we call the high fenced pen, low fenced pen and the cage system for commercial purposes. These methods have the capacity to contain over 1000 snails efficiently compared to the traditional methods where baskets, car tyres and other crude equipment were used in breeding snails. It has assisted in the establishment of snail farms in urban areas. The research studies we have conducted have also assisted farmers and feed millers in the country to formulate diets for snails using locally available feed ingredients at affordable cost.
Talking about the feeds, how is it ensured that they are made available to snail farmers to enhance productivity?
We are working in partnership with feed millers towards commercialising the feed. More so, anytime a training is organised for the farmers, we educate them on the formulation and teach them how to make the formulation themselves using the appropriate mixtures.
From your research, what is your evaluation of the demand, supply and consumption rate of snails in Nigeria?
Snails are abundant in the Southern part of Nigeria due to the heavy rainfall and rich vegetation compared to the northern region that has a dry environment, which is not conducive for snail breeding. However, the consumption rate in general is very high and it is more expensive in the north. Snails are nutritious and very palatable which makes it highly demanded by consumers.
What are the financial benefits and market value that makes snail farming a unique in Nigeria?
Talking about the area of finance, one needs little resources, but it all depends on how you want to go about it especially if you want to go for commercial production. You can spend as low as N5000 or spend millions of naira in the business. Your financial return is subject to your level of investment. If you invest about a million naira, there is assurance you will generate over a million naira in return but if you invest about 10 thousand naira, automatically, what you will get will be between 20 to 30 thousand.
Are there other value chains that can be exploited in the snail farming sector?
Asides production, we have areas such as marketing, we also have snail processing whereby the snails can be processed for export. The snail is a very valuable animal right from the production to the processing, marketing and the consumption.
What are the major challenges affecting snail production in the country?
There is no way we will talk about the challenges in the sector without mentioning finance. Talking about finance, the expenditure for feeding and sustaining production in both small scale and large scale breeding costs money. Climatic condition is another challenge. You will discover that during the dry season, the snail will not do well except they are being given proper attention under good management policies. Another challenge is theft, being that the snail is very light compared to other, which makes it easy to steal when not tightly secured. Predators such as rats, toads, snakes, millipedes and centipedes also pose a threat to the survival of snails. Another challenge is the implementation of good management practices. Snails need proper management to produce well and if this is not well ensured, they will die off, incurring losses to the farmer.
What types of snail breeds are of economic value in the Nigerian environment?
We have different varieties of snails in Nigeria, but the African Giant Land snail (Archachatina Marginata) is the most common and highly recommended for snail farmers. It is very big in size, has a commendable reproduction rate, very adaptable to any environment and easy to manage.
What are the common diseases affecting snail production in Nigeria and how can these diseases be controlled?
Compared to other livestock, like the pig, where one of the peculiar diseases is the African Swine Flu; and in poultry where you talk about coccidiosis and the pox virus, the study of snail diseases in Nigeria is still relatively new and little is known about the diseases that attack the snails. Presently, research is still ongoing and the diseases are yet to be categorized. It is advisable that snail farmers practice basic hygiene as well as clean the snail’s environment regularly to remove excreta and uneaten food as well as any other unwanted matter that could become harmful to the health of the snails.
When was the Snail Farmers Association of Nigeria established and the purpose for its formation and objectives?
The Snail Farmers Association was formed around 1998 through the collaborative efforts of professional colleagues and farmers. It is registered under the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) with headquarters at the Institute of Agriculture Research and Training, Ibadan and I was opportune to be among the pioneer members. It is an organisation that involves farmers, marketers, researchers and all the stakeholders in the snail sector. They meet to discuss issues related to snail production and marketing of snails and proffer solutions to some of the challenges facing snail farming in Nigeria. Asides that, it also has a credit and thrift co-operative where they make monetary investments to help generate revenue for their snail businesses. It is also a platform that promotes conferences annually, where researchers provide their findings and recommendations to enhance the development of the sector.
What is your assessment of the relationship between the association and the government?
At present, compared to the Poultry Association of Nigeria, that is a national organization, snail farming is peculiar to Southern Nigeria. Personally, I work for a research institute owned by the government and the researches made on snail production are supported by the government. The association also communicates with the government regarding any new development in the snail sector.
What do you think are the necessary actions that can be taken to encourage snail farmers and investors?
This can be done by sensitization i.e. creating more awareness on the economic and health benefits of the snail industry. I think by so doing, the number of people in the sector will increase and the commercial value will also be expanded.
On your part, what are the notable actions you have taken towards developing the snail farming business in Nigeria?
For over a decade, I have been a resource person on micro-livestock to both government and non-governmental organisations, such as the Department for International Development and Heifer Foundation. In collaboration with other colleagues, I have trained over 500 unemployed youths drawn across the country on wealth creation through micro-livestock production.
How do you think financial institutions and corporate bodies can come into play in the development of the snail industry?
They can do this by providing funds and conducive policies to enable farmers get loans. This is not only applicable to snail farming alone but includes all other agricultural businesses.
What is your advice for potential investors?
My advice is that people should invest more in the business. They should also endeavour to study and learn the business well enough before commencement.
Do you think the snail farming business can generate the required capacity and quality for export?
Yes, this is possible under good management practices such as a good housing system, good feeding and good processing. Local snail farmers need to also expand their production range or engage in contract or cooperative farming to encourage the required quality and quantity needed for export. The government also needs to support this by creating an enabling environment and good policies to encourage export.