/ 14 January 2024

The slow and satisfying life of a snail farmer

Ghana Snails 6 2 (1)
Ama Serwaa Anim, a nurse and client of Trisolace Farms holding snail shells in Accra, Ghana. Photo Courtesy: Ama Serwaa

Ama Serwaa Ennin squats in a greenhouse, proudly showing off her farming produce, her hands full. What she’s holding is her source of pride and future income. But this is not grain or legumes of the sort usually proffered up in tales of African farming success. Instead, her hands are holding two snails — giant African snails, to be exact. 

“Snail farming is a good business but it takes time before you can harvest, so you need patience if you really want to venture into [it]. People often encourage me on social media but some are unintentionally funny; one asked me why I do this when my peers are leaving for Canada to practise nursing,” Ennin said. 

Snails are a delicacy and source of protein for Ghanaians. Popular dishes such as jollof rice with snails, banku with snail stew, yam chips with peppered snails, snail meat pies, and snail meat kebab can be found in eateries in most urban areas. They’re also a huge opportunity for farmers.

“They are the most profitable animals per square metre,” explained Felix Appiah Nyarko, co-founder of Trisolace, an enterprise that helps smallholder farmers like Ennin grow snails organically in urban and rural areas. 

Over the past eight years, Nyarko has helped build Trisolace into a company that is fast becoming a household name in Ghana, having established more than 200 large greenhouses dedicated to growing snails.

“The greenhouse package costs between 36 000 cedis (about $3  000) to 200  000 cedis (about $17  000) and the small boxes start from 700 cedis (about $58) whereas a pack of snails is 150 cedis (about $12.5),” Nyarko said. 

Snail farming was about as far from Ennin’s initial plans for a career as one could get. But after qualifying for her dream job in nursing, she waited in vain to be placed in one of the country’s medical centres. 

“I realised that I wouldn’t be posted anytime soon after national service because our predecessors [were] still at home and I decided to do something and the opportunity I had here was land, so I started farming,” she said.

In 2022, Ennin’s father told her about snail farming. Soon after that, she travelled for training at the Trisolace Snail Farm in Accra, then started her project on her parents’ land in Mampong municipality in the Ashanti region. 

“I market the snails online and buy from local pickers and sell to the open market while waiting for those in the greenhouse to fully mature,” she said.

Ennin’s parents helped her with the purchase of her first greenhouse, which cost some 24  000 cedi ($2  000). There, she grows vegetables like carrots, cabbage, lettuce, and cucumber. She sells some of her harvest, but most is used to feed about 1  700 edible giant African snails, or Lissachatina fulica.

“You need to have patience because it’s a long-term investment,” Ennin said. “Snail farming does not need much space. You can go through the training and start small, not necessarily the greenhouse method.” 

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Ennin feeds her giant African snails on vegetables she grows. (bird story agency)

The idea of commercialised snail farming came to Nyarko during his job hunt when he met other friends and civil engineering colleagues who were also looking for jobs but were unsuccessful. Nyarko participated in different start-ups and entrepreneurship programmes and saw the huge potential the snail industry presents in terms of job creation.

“We started with small boxes filled with snails and gave them out to friends and colleagues where they reported on what they like and don’t like, as well as the mortality rates, so that was how we got our research,” Nyarko said. 

With savings from Nyarko’s national service allowance and support from his co-founder, they raised 5  000 cedi to start rearing the snails on a commercial scale, using boxes. 

“In 2018, we started on a larger scale doing the greenhouses. This was after I completed intensive training at a state-owned institution, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Forest Research Institute of Ghana on snail farming technology.”

Their snail rearing was catching on and, in 2019, Nyarko was awarded a $5  000 grant by the United Nations Development Programme and the National Youth Authority under Ghana’s Youth Connekt Platform. 

Trisolace has grown over the past seven years to now have 22 full-time staff members, thanks in part to the application of different innovative methods such as using greenhouses and sprinklers.

“We saw that there were a lot of prospects in agriculture. But we didn’t have a place of our own. I was still with my parents so you couldn’t do anything like poultry or anything that smelled or made noise. That is when we started to research snails,” Nyarko said.

Snail farming still has its difficulties and risks, including a relatively high mortality rate during hatching if conditions are not closely monitored.

But retired Ghanaian technician Elvis E Nkrumah, who previously specialised in snail farming technology, advises young people to have patience and ensure best practices to become profitable over time.

“We advise that you don’t sell your first generation but the second generation so that you have a sequence of ranges where you can sell the subsequent years and that will make them big enough to earn you higher prices so that you get a lot of profit. Your first generation will get you a lot of snail population. 

“They lay a lot — on average 400 to 500 eggs annually — and hatchability is between 95 to 100 percent,” he said.

Another under-explored area in the value chain is the rising demand for snail slime by the cosmetic industry globally. 

“A lot of people are developing interest in the sector not because of the flesh but because of the cosmetic industry,” Nkrumah said. “Few people in Ghana extract snail slime and export but a lot of them sell fresh meat. The profitability [of meat] is quite high, especially in the dry season when the snails are scarce

“We can meet only 18 percent of the total market demand, hence the reason we’re offering free training in order to get more people to invest in the sector,” said Nyarko.Ennin hopes to start selling her snails in 2025. — bird story agency