It is interesting to know that the Nigerian Government has pledged an increased agricultural investment towards accelerating agricultural production, especially the production and processing of grains in the country. However, beyond production of grains such as maize and rice which constitute the staple of many Nigerians, meat and protein production also plays a critical role in meeting the dietary or nutritional needs of the people.
A part of the meat production business which has a huge value chain but remains largely untapped in Nigeria is snail farming. Snail is a member of the mollusc family that is generally known for its dietary and nutritional value. However, snail is also a source of raw materials to the non-food industries, particularly the cosmetic and pharmaceutical businesses. The practice of rearing snails for consumption and commercial purposes is called Heliculture and is common in Europe and some parts of the Mediterranean region.
The global consumption of snails increased astronomically in 2014 and the global market value of heliculture reportedly reached 12 Billion US Dollars per annum that year. About 15 percent of the total snails consumed globally are collected from the snail breeding units and the remaining 85 percent are collected from nature in poor countries where hunting and animal picking is common. Countries such as Spain, Morocco, China, France and Italy have the highest per capital consumption of snails.
Helix Aspersa, the compound snail species, which is commonly found in Europe constitutes the biggest in the international market with about 80 percent of the market share due to its high quality meat and slime. Other known species such as, Archatina fulica, archatina marginata, achatina achartina are largely found in the African region.
The interesting thing about snail is that every component of the animal is economically important. The snail flesh is a source of protein to individuals. The snail shell is used as a calcium supplement for livestock feeds and has medicinal value. Also the mucus secreted by the snail is of high value for spar treatment and the production of cosmetics.
Snail farming should be a reputable source of national wealth in the Nigeria’s agricultural ecosystem. However, an analysis of snail production and consumption in Nigeria shows a grossly untapped market despite a large deposit of the African giant snails in the country.
The snail supply chain in Nigeria has been highly fragmented and the business has been mainly funded through personal savings or soft loans from cooperative society. In snail farming, the cost of labour constitutes the largest component of the production cost unlike other sources of protein such as poultry where the feed is the most expensive input.
The underperformance of snail business in Nigeria has been mostly attributed to high level of illiteracy, the disorganised nature of the market, lack of technical know-how and poor access to finance etc.
There is also a deficit of information among the people about the huge potentials of snails. Most consumers of snail consume only the meat while the shell and the slime are often considered as wastes. Even the snail meat is keenly underselling compared to other animal sources of proteins like fish, birds, beef, pork etc. More so, there are a few experts of Heliculture in the country to service the local markets. The cost of travelling oversees to acquire training in snail farming and snail farm management may be a great setback to local farmers.
In spite of its challenges, snail farming has a great potential in Nigeria. Apart from the fact that the country has a favourable weather condition for snail farming, there is also high presence of fruit and leafy vegetables that could serve as snail feeds and habitats with a relatively low cost of labour.
Nigeria has a population of over 200 Million people, 30 percent of whom depend on Agriculture as a means of livelihood. It is believed that Heliculture has a huge potential to contribute meaningfully to Nigeria’s economy due to its capacity for high backward-linkage which has been largely tapped in other countries of the world, especially in Europe and America.
Therefore, the Nigerian Government is being nudged to look in the direction of heliculture, and channel resources toward creating an enabling environment for professionals in the industry as well as promoting needed trainings and knowledge in the field. More specifically, the government can encourage access to specialized funding for snail farmers and give tax relief to snail processors.