I’m a snail farmer.
My goal is to become one of the biggest snail farmers in Africa. I’m starting small, but I want to raise millions of them—herds of snails, hordes of snails, swarms of snails. Perhaps we should invent a new group name for these slimy little creatures.
Whatever we call them, snails are a part of my economic future in agriculture. I seek to supply a domestic demand here in Ghana. Eventually I would like to export them to Europe, where I hope the restaurants in Paris serve my snails in brimming bowls of escargot.
This isn’t my only foray into farming. In a greenhouse, I use hydroponics to grow tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers. Outside in the field, I grow corn and lettuce. I’m also involved in the wholesale and retail of coconuts.
Yet my new passion is raising snails—and it’s inspired by a local passion for eating them.
The Akans, who make up the largest ethnic group in Ghana, love to eat snails. They put snails in soups and sauces. It is a valued staple and source of protein for many.
I don’t belong to the Akan tribe, and I rarely eat snails, but I’m pleased to provide edible gastropods to my fellow citizens. The words “gastropod” and “gastronomy,” in fact, have a common origin in the language of ancient Greece.
In Ghana, the demand for snails is strong. Our domestic supply, however, is weak. Ghana imports a lot of snails from the Ivory Coast, our neighboring country to the west.
I’m a strong proponent of trade between countries—it’s important for farmers and consumers to exchange goods across borders for mutual benefit—but I also sense an opportunity to build a business that caters to my fellow Ghanaians.
Right now, my snails number several hundred. I raise them in boxes, with 60 snails in each box. Moist soil with calcium supplements rests on the bottom. Leaves sit on top. The snails love these little habitats. We give them poultry feed, vegetables, and leftovers from the kitchen. They gorge on it all.
Snails are a nutritious source of protein for people. They also possess medicinal properties, and cosmetic companies purchase their secretions as anti-wrinkling agents.
One of my aspirations as a farmer is to help more women achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture. I’ve recently started to train women and girls on how to raise snails. I also help them bring their snails to market.
Women don’t participate in some aspects of Ghana’s agriculture. Climbing trees to retrieve coconuts, for example, is done almost exclusively by boys.
Snail farming is an excellent occupation for the rest of us. Women can do it alongside other jobs and responsibilities. Girls can do it even when they’re going to school. The snails need attention at least twice a day, with watering the soil in the morning and the evening. It’s so easy to take care of them that even a five-year-old can do it.
Snails grow to what we call “table size”—big enough for a meal—in seven to nine months. We usually let them grow a little larger, selling them when they are about a year and half old. We also keep a few, so they can breed the next generation. Uniquely, snails are hermaphroditic, which means they are male and female at the same time and both sexes lay eggs. A single mature snail can produce up to 500 eggs.
If I follow my plan and do a good job—and if my snails cooperate with their mating/ laying egg, hatching, and growing—I anticipate growing a million snails in two years. I should be able to sell them entirely within Ghana. When I reach 2 million snails, I’ll start to think about exporting them to customers in foreign countries. France is an obvious destination but there is also a demand for snails in nearby Nigeria as well as Germany, Spain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
Many conventional farmers see snails as a threat, and garden snails in fact are pests that threaten my lettuce crop sometimes. If I fail to control them, they will devour the food I’m trying to grow for people.
Yet for me—and potentially for many other women—snails are an amazing resource.