When some entrepreneurs introduced commercial snail farming into the country few years ago, many were surprised that the odd-looking molluscs could be food and a source of income.
After a number of success stories with the snail enterprise a number of farmers have been considering it as a source of income. But researchers at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have taken the snail business a notch higher by pioneering value addition project to make it even more profitable.
Researchers at the university's horticulture department are currently making skincare products from the snail’s mucin or slime to expand the molluscs’ market beyond food.
Dr Paul Kinoti, a scientist leading snail rearing project at JKUAT, explains that the molluscs produce a secretion known as mucin which can be used in making cosmetics.
The African giant snail is the most preferable breed for meat and slime — even though it does not give much slime. The snails are fed on fruits and vegetables and their housing demand is also quite modest since they can be bred in wooden boxes or even old tyres as long as a low -temperature environment is guaranteed.
The snails can obtained locally since they are common in the country especially during rainy seasons. The university is also offering training to discerning farmers besides selling snail stocks.
Nevertheless, before one gets begins rearing the snails he must get a no-objection letter from the National Museum of Kenya then proceed to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) for a rearing permit. This is because snails are considered wildlife.
Snails are basically consumed like any other type of meat. Scientists say they are a good source of protein for their high-level of Omega 3.
Dr Kinoti however notes that one needs a lot of slime to make the cosmetics hence they have to import the slime since there are not enough snail in the country to support their slime skincare project.
“There is a species of snail known as Helis Aspasia (brown snail) which produces a lot of slime; about 10ml per snail, but are not found in Kenya hence we have to import the slime from the western countries,” he said, adding that they buy a litre of slime at about 40 euros or Sh4,600.
During the recently concluded Nairobi International Trade Fair, the varsity displayed a number of slime-based cosmetic products which drew a lot of attention from show-goers.
Dr Kinoti notes that production of snail mucin skincare is currently under way and will hit the market any time once they get a nod from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs). He however observed that the cost of producing the skin care products is capital-intensive.
“The extraction process of the slime requires a lot of capital. Currently the university imports the machine used for extraction for five million dollars (Sh500 million),” remarked Dr Kinoti.
Ivy Rosio, a student JKUAT who was manning the varsity stand during the trade fair, said they are training discerning farmers on snail farming besides selling snail stocks to them. “Those planning to venture into the business are given 30 African giant snails which cost about Sh10,000,” she said.
As hermaphrodites, snails reproduce easily throughout the year, sometimes laying upto 300 eggs at a time while by six months the young snails will be mature enough to begin producing eggs. Snails also require low maintenance including feed.
The venture is however not quite popular in the country as it has been in West Africa and Asian countries such as China and Japan.
Furthermore there are no reliable statistics for the industry but it is estimated that the global snail industry represents more than $12 billion or Sh1.2 trillion, with 450,000 tons consumed per year. While a part of this comes from developed snail breeding units in Western countries, the greater majority of the production comes from the collection of snails in the wild in developing countries.
Ms Rosio, who is part of the snail research team at JKUAT, says snails can be used to make a wide range of products including liquid soaps, face creams, fertilisers and organic feeds.
According to her, the snails normally have shells which can be used to make ornaments or to trap heavy metals in water treatment.
“They are ground and fed to chicken and fish because of their high calcium content. They are also used in making organic fertilisers where they are ground and fortified into compost. It works well with all crops due to its high content of nutrients,” she said.
Ms Rosio says the slime can be used to make face creams, help in curbing acnes and dark spots. It has anti-aging properties.
The quoted price for the face creams is Sh1, 000 for the 200ml bottle while the 150 ml liquid soap retails at Sh250.