Rosemary Odinga is the only farmer currently registered by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to raise snails and she is working to make her venture, which she started in 2007, even bigger.
Ms. Odinga, 39, learned of snail farming from former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who owns one of the biggest mollusc farm in West Africa.
Obasanjo’s farm currently has a capacity of more than 500,000 and adequately serves the Nigerian market, where the molluscs are preferred as bar snacks.
She got more information about snail farming from the late Dr. Kibberenge Musombi of the University of Nairobi, who also donated 13 snails to her starting brood. Dr. Musombi had extensively studied the distribution of land-snails in Kenya and wrote several papers on his findings.
“Dr. Musombi taught me a lot about the different types of snails and how to commercially grow them,” said Ms. Odinga.
First time unlucky
Yet even with her dedicated research and preparation, Ms. Odinga still did not get the set up right and she ended up losing 11 of the 13 snails she had received from Dr. Musombi.
She reckons the temperature of the structure she had set up to raise them was constantly high, whereas snails thrive well in cool and wet areas.
Not one to give up, she set up a greenhouse on a section of her 25-acre piece of land, and with her two remaining snails, proceeded to set up a flock of more than 3,000 presently.
Ms. Odinga specializes in Achatina Fulica, the Giant African land snail, which she keeps in plastic basins inside her greenhouse.
The basins hold soil that is kept moist by regularly sprinkling water on. Achatina Fulica take five months to sexually mature and each can lay up to 400 eggs at a time.
Snails, which are hermaphrodites (have both male and female reproductive organs) love leafy vegetables, such as kales and cabbages. Once mature, the snails are killed, cleaned and packed in 160g bags, each containing two dozen (24) mollusks.
Snails are classified as wild animals and for one to raise them, farmers have to first get a license from the KWS, who give farmers the greenlight after confirming that they have the capacity to raise the snails sustainably.
Among Ms. Odinga’s earliest clients were high-end hotels in Nairobi, but on realizing she could not sustain the demand, she opted to focus on individual buyers and select supermarkets.
A fast-rising public figure, Ms. Odinga urges youth to embrace farming as it is a genuine way out of dependency.
“I find farming rewarding and educative-I have always seen the circle of life as interesting. I think it is also important to know where your food comes from before it gets to your plate,” she said.