Rosemary Odinga, the daughter of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, is one of the most prominent snail farmers in Africa – thanks to former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo.
Rosemary has been out of the news after she was taken ill with a brain tumour at a time she was focusing on running for the the Kibra parliamentary seat, once held by his father.
Before she decided to try her hand in politics, and unknown to many the friendly Rosemary was known in the Kenyan farming community for her multi-million snails venture which she credits to President Obasanjo, a good friend of the Odinga family.
It all started as a hobby in 2007 as she was to later say: “I had gone to Nigeria where I had the privilege of visiting former Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo. He is one of the biggest snail farmers there. He is the one who challenged me to think about farming. He was so convincing with the snail farming, I promised to do something when I came back home,” she once told a local daily.
It is a story that all those who want to go into snail farming should read. Immediately he returned to Kenya, Rosemary decided to look for snail experts.
“I visited the University of Nairobi and met a snail expert who was passionate about snail farming. I learnt everything from the types of snails, to their behaviours, ideal environment, feeding, breeding, market potential plus more. He saw my passion and volunteered to act as my mentor.”
It is from this expert that Rosemary got some 13 snails, the giant African land snail. “As expected with new farmers, all the snails died save for two. I think they were exposed to heat, which is a no-no for them. Actually, snails thrive in cool temperatures and wet surfaces. That is why they multiply during the rainy season.”
It was after that that she built a green house in Kiserian, Ngong, where has 25 acres of land. It is here where she put the surviving snail and within no time, she had an army of snails.
“A French restaurant heard about my venture and placed orders. That is how the venture began to thrive,” she is quoted saying.
Rosemary’s company, Shelltops Limited is today one of the most successful snail ventures in Kenya. Her orders come from high-end restaurants in Nairobi and there is good business at the moment.
“The orders from high-end hotels became so overwhelming, I could not meet it. Because of the pressure, I decided to just focus on individual clients who comprise expatriates and Kenyans of foreign origin. But I also supply to a few upmarket restaurants,” she says.
But it is not as easy as it sounds. There are several steps that a farmer has to go through before they can say be allowed to rear snails. First, you need to obtain a license from Kenya Wildlife Service because the creatures are categorised as wild. And before KWS issues you with that license, you have to demonstrate that you have the knowledge and capacity to rear them.
Rosemary was lucky to have former President Obasanjo as her mentor and had an snail expert from the university of Nairobi.
Every time Obasanjo visited Kenya he would travel to Kiserian to see Raila’s daughter. “There are different ways of rearing snails, the free range system. This is basically placing the snails in a shamba as opposed to a closed structure like a greenhouse. If one chooses to go the greenhouse system, one has to get containers like basins, which are to be filled with soil and sprinkled with water to keep the soil moist. “You do not just get ordinary soil. There is a special one that I buy then I ‘enrich’ it. Prior to commencing the project, the environment on which the snails develop remains ideal.”
There are different types of snails in Kenya. We have the Giant African Land Snail – Achatina fulica, Garden Snail – Helix aspersa and Roman Snail – Helix pomatia. Each category has different species, for instance, under the Giant African Land snail, there is the Achatina Achatina from West Africa, Achatina Marginata from West Africa and Achatina Fulica from East Africa. The species vary in body features like size, the shell and the general structure. Rosemary specialises in Achatina Fulica from East Africa.
Unknown to many, Snails are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexual organs. The creatures feed on vitamins so their diet comprise kales, cabbages and fruits like paw paw. To ensure that the snails thrive and breed well, there are certain aspects that a farmer must get right.
“One is the temperature. Snails thrive in cool moist environs. They hate the sun. The soil type must also be right and contain the nutrients they need. That is why a farmer cannot just scoop soil from his farm, put in a basin and dump the snails. The soil has to be specially treated,” she explains. When being packaged for sale, chicken and livestock are slaughtered, so how are snails prepared before they hit the market?
Snail farming is lucrative, but there are very strict requirement from Kenya Wildlife Service. Aspiring snail farmers need to put location, soil type, moisture content, wind direction, lime content of the soil and environmental temperature into consideration while establishing the business.
Apart from buying species from breed-sellers or from Agricultural institutes in the country, you can equally pick them (Snails) from bush by clearing a little portion of land during rainy season and sprinkle spicy fruits like pineapple, pawpaw, plantain, banana and so on at about 5o’clock in the evening, when you go back there about 7pm or 8pm, you will pick up snails suitable for rearing. Repeat the procedure until you get enough quantity.
Another way could be to pick up snail eggs. The eggs are later put inside a container containing wet sand and covered with cocoyam leaf. Between 21 to 28 days, the eggs would hatch into baby snails.
In developed and developing countries, the business is lucrative due to ever increasing consumption rate. For instance, France has about 5 million kg per annum consumption. Italy is believed to consume about 306 million snails every year while Cote d’ Ivoire has an estimated annual snail consumption of 7.9 million kg.