By Agbonlahor Marymatha
Leaders the world over are focusing on integrating youths into the mainstream of agricultural activities. There are lots of discussions on ways to make agricultural activities attractive to youths and reduce the scourge of unemployment and social vices. This is especially so in Africa and Nigeria in particular. While it is indeed important for Government to continue to increase youth capacity in agriculture; youths should take the bull by the horn. The conventional agricultural activities which are deemed capital intensive and limiting for youths to venture into: Poultry production (turkey, chicken, ducks, guinea fowls etc), small and large ruminants (goats, sheep, cattle etc), crop farming/plantation agriculture do not have to be the only way out. Other less capital intensive agri-production should be embraced.
Micro-livestock refers to small animals which require relatively smaller space to be farmed. Relative to cattle, goats, sheep and poultry are also micro. However, the focus of this article is to draw attention to some useful and high income potential animals that can considerably contribute to income generation and with very low start-up capital and high return on investment. Some of these include grass-cutters, rabbits, snails etc.
It is common practice to have backyard poultry systems. A backyard broiler unit of 50 birds will cost at N500 to N750 ($3.13 to $4.68; at N160/$) to bring each bird to market weight (2kg and above) depending on the efficiency of management and feeding. While the cost of the housing may range between N8000 to N15000 where it is constructed and in some cases it is an apartment in the main house that is used and no cost incurred on housing. Comparatively, snail farming requires lower investment to start, less cost of operation (feeding and medication), less risk of disease outbreak, no noise and no odorous emission.
Snails in Nigeria are commonly sourced from the wild and are seasonal (occurring during the rains). With the increasing rate of urbanization and deforestation the population of snails in the wild is declining; with very few snail farms across Nigeria currently supplying snail meat. Since snails are not available all year round in the wild, its availability as a continuous source of daily household protein is limited and the output from the few snail farmers is not enough to meet the current local demand and the export market from Nigeria is yet to be explored.
On the average, a mature snail (Achatina achatina) can lay 300 eggs/breeding and with 2-3 batches/year (900 eggs/year). These hatch within 30 days into young snails. Average price for a pair of breeding snails (point of lay which can be sourced from any of the reputable snail farms in Nigeria) is N300 to N400.
Requirements for a small scale start-up snail farm Snail Pen (Snailery): Should be constructed to keep the snails in and keep all pests (insects, ants, rats and other rodents). The snailery could be a trench dug into the ground with rich organic soil; or a box/hutch raised above the ground. The hutch could be single or multi-chambered. The bottom of the hutch is perforated (to allow water drain out) and laid with limed organic soil. The soil is changed every 2-3months. The lid on the box is lined with wire mesh. Where a trench is used, the bottom of the trench must be layered with wire-mesh (which will be replaced over time as it rots) and plant materials and the sides are raised as a fence with corrugated iron sheets or woven plant materials and wooden posts to hold it in place. The top of the pen is also covered with wire netting to keep the snails from escaping. Snailery must be shaded from the sun as snails require a damp and cool environment. Preferably snail pens should be under the canopy of trees, or a shed made over the pen. Extremes of temperature can cause the snails to hibernate (become inactive). The trench may be divided into sections; hatchery section as well as a separate unit for young snails away from the adult snails. The size of the snail pen depends on the number of snails to be raised. Tyres, Clay pots and Baskets may also be adapted into snail pens.
Snail stock and stocking: Breeding or point of lay snails can be sourced from existing snail farmers. This gives better assurance than those from the market. Snails may also be got from the wild. However, sourcing from a snail farmer enables one to know the age of the snails. Snails should weigh about 150-200g and reach full size in 24months. Younger snails lay more than older snails. The shell quality of the breeding stock and the color of the foot of the snail are also important aspects to take note of when selecting breeders. Thus it is advised that breeders be got from reputable snail farms rather than from the wild or the market. Overstocking of pen must be avoided. On the average a space of 1m2 can hold 15-20 mature snails. Transportation/introduction of snails should be done during the cool evenings or early morning to reduce stress on the snails as much as possible. Snails can be placed in baskets during transportation and the pens should have been prepared with feed and well moisturized soil for the snails. Snails may at first try to crawl out of the pens which should be well lidded. Within a week, the snails will become accustomed to their new environment so long as there is adequate feed and the temperature is cool. Care should be taken in introducing snails into pens to avoid mortality. Dead snails should be removed from the pen and replaced.
Feeding: Snails require 10 times their body weight of feed/day. They could be fed fresh tender green leaves or vegetables, decaying leafy vegetables, over ripe fruits, formulated feed, household vegetable kitchen waste that do not contain common salt (sodium chloride), etc. Examples include pumpkin/ugwu, lettuce, bitter leaf, cabbage, leaves of pawpaw, cassava, cocoyam, plantain/banana, over ripe pawpaw, banana, sweet orange, mango, cocoa, oil palm fruit. Where these fruit trees are available they also provide shade for the snails. Formulated feed (like with poultry mash, high in calcium, phosphorus and proteins, low in Salt-Sodium chloride), solid pap etc. Snails feed generally when the temperature is cool; at night, early hours of the morning and cool evenings. The environment must always be kept cool to encourage snail to be active and feed well. Calcium could be occasionally spread on the soil to improve shell development especially in young snails.
Water: The soil should be kept moist by spraying with water. When it is dry, snails dig under and hibernate. The pen should be such that excess water drains out. Only water the pens at sunset to keep the soil moist. It should not be waterlogged. Hence the type of soil and perforation of the bottom of the pen (if using hutches) is important.
Routine Management: This includes daily feeding of the snails, watering the soil to keep it moist especially during the dry seasons. Constant water supply is important to obtain an all year round snail production. The surrounding of the pen should be kept free of weeds to keep away pests and predators from the snailery. Termites, ants, frogs, birds, lizards, rats are some of the pests that may affect the growth of snails and cause mortality. Any opening observed on the pen must be fixed immediately to prevent entry of rodents or escape of the snails.
Snails dig into the soil to lay their eggs. Hence soil laid in the pen should be about 5-10cm in depth. When these hatch, the young snails should be carefully transferred into another section away from the larger snails to reduce the incidence of injury and mortality of the young snail.
Snails of different sizes/age/specie should not be raised together.
Snails reach mature weight (200g-300g) in 15 to 24 months depending on the intensity of feeding. Although their growth rate is slow, the low investment/operation cost as well as the high return on capital more than make up for the long period to maturity. Harvested snails should be well handled to keep them intact for sale.
Market potential: There is a large market for snail meat both locally and internationally. Presently, the output of snails in Nigeria is insufficient to meet the local demand for it. Potential customers include individuals, retailers in the markets, hotels, restaurants/fast food centers, local food vendors, bars and club houses, frozen food sellers etc. The export market for snails is still untapped. Snails could be sold live or processed. When sold processed, the shell serves as an additional source of income or could be used as a feed ingredient for compounded snail feed.
Cost implication of raising snails
For a start-up snailery with 10 breeders:
10 breeders at N150 each = 1,500
*if using multi-chambered hutches
**@ N5 snail
Each breeder lays an average of 300 eggs/batch = 3000 eggs. Allowing 10% mortality = 2700 snails. With an all year round system, it is possible to have 3 harvests of mature snails in 27 months from stocking of the first breeders.
Labor is provided by the owner
If each mature snail sells at N120
Revenue from 2700 snails = N324, 000 (from the first harvest).
Most snail farmers sell only mature snails; however, there is also market for grow-out snails (young snails of about 3 to 6 months that could be reared to maturity within a year).
Snail meat is a delicacy with numerous health benefits. And it could serve as an avenue to creating employment for the teeming youths and graduates.