In tropical Africa, the market supply of snails is mainly from the wilds, which is currently facing deforestation and degradation due to human activities. Less or no concrete measures toward snails management may result in drastic reduction in its supply in no distant future.
The African giant land snail is highly accepted as a rich delicacy as well as widely utilized in traditional medicine in Southern Nigeria. As a matter of fact, large scale snail farming is urgently needed in order to meet people’s demand.
Due to seasonal nature of plants, food materials, the need for snail rearing on a continuous basis transposing the rainy and the dry seasons through good management practices, this will sustain and encourage the current surge of interest in snail farming all over Nigeria especially in the South West States, and by extension the tropical Sub-Sahara West Africa.
Presently, small scale snail farms are prevalent but a change is inevitable. Despite the fact that land snails are non-conventional,theybare wildlife; its farming practice requires expert knowledge of harnessing agricultural products and by-products in formulating its feeds for optimal yield.
The Nigeria livestock industry has come a long way from the small backyard flock of the 1950s to a gigantic industry of today and it is still growing inspite of odds. Livestock has been contributing immensely to the provision of protein for the populace through the supply of livestock meat and eggs. Livestock products are not bedevilled by taboos, hence they are generally well accepted by consumers. The contribution of the industry is expected to increase immensely in years to come.
The improvement of livestock industry in Nigeria especially in the South Western axis of the country is necessary as less than 7% of the bulk of Nigeria’s livestock is located there. The industries are characterized by the presence of small-scale ventures about 10-30% interspersed with some medium and large scale concern. The entreprenur of the small medium scale farms are of diverse social, cultural and educational backgrounds , necessitating improved awareness and dissemination of information on the latest development and productivity enhancement in domestic snail rearing.
Snails are simply soft-bodied animals ( animals without backbone) that possess shells. They are found all over the world and are numerous. They are both land and water dwellers. However, we shall concern ourselves with edible land snails in Nigeria.
There is a lot of indigenous information on snails in South Nigeria, such information are in form of quizzes, songs,/appellations, proverbs, adages, rhetorics and myths. All these portray the popularity of the creature among the south westerners of the country.
However, snail meat is consumed in many countries of the world. It is a popular meat for many Nigerians in the rural areas in the rainforest belt. It is now served in many restaurants in the cities , often referred to as ‘ Congo meat’.
The meat is very nutritious because it’s high in protein and iron, low in fat and cholesterol and contains almost all the amino acids needed by humans. In addition to the nutritional value, it is known to have some medicinal properties in the control of hypertension and treatment of anaemia.
Snails have become an important source of income for some farmers who dwell in the rainforest areas and also a foreign exchange earner through exports to other countries. But because of their scarcity in the dry season, it’s supply is seasonal.
Some human activities are responsible for the decline in population of snails particularly the giant snail, Archachatina Marginata, Achatina achatina and Limicolaria species. The activities are : hunting, destruction of the natural habitat by deforestation and burning of bushes; and increased widespread use of agricultural pesticides. Hence, the solution to the seasonal and decreased supply of snails is the rearing ( domestication) of snails as it’s practiced in other parts of the world.
Results of researches carried out in Nigeria and Ghana decades ago have shown that it is possible to rear edible land snails as a profitable venture. Other advantages of snail farming are it can be reared at the backyard with small amount of initial capital investment, the feeds are cheap an readily available, it can be combined with other farming activities, the operation is easy forte old and disabled people, snails are harmless and a source of additional income for the family.
A snail is made up of shell and body. The shell constitutes about 30% of the live body weight. It protects the body against dehydration. There is an opening in the anterior end called aperture. The shell contains calcium carbonate and it grows as the entire body mass grows. The body is made up of three parts: the head, the foot and the visceral mass.
The head bears two pairs of tentacles which the snail withdraws in when disturbed. Numerous teeth-like projection called radula, it is in its mouth which is located at the dorsal part of the head. It serves as the teeth used to grasp its feed.
The foot of the snail is large, muscular and moistened. The foot is not well demarcated from the head. The visceral mass is housed in the shell above the foot. It includes the tiny heart, stomach, genital gland, intestine, kidney and liver, among others. The normal red blood is absent in a snail due to the absence of haemoglobin but respiratory pigment called heamocyanin is responsible for the bluish colour of its blood.
Snails are hermaphrodites ( no male, no female) , they have both male and female sex organs but do not reproduce by self-fertilization.The most common form of reproduction is simultaneous reciprocal sperm exchange.
Under natural environment, snails are found in damp places especially under the leaves or rocks and they are more common in rainy seasons. When the weather becomes too hot or dry, snails resume a torpid state until weather condition improves. In some cases, snails bury themselves in the ground while others take cover under boards, logs and stones. This process is called hibernation.
There are different breeds of snails in the world. The breeds vary in size, colour/adaptability and performance. In West Africa, especially Nigeria, there are four common edible land snails.
One is Archachatina marginata ( Yoruba language; Igbin Apinnu, Igbo; Ejuna, Hausa; Kodi) They are of two types : big black and big white snails. Mature adult can weigh between 150-800 grammes. The shell is wider at the apex relative to others. It lays 4-13 eggs/clutch. It is very common in South West Nigeria highly populated by the Yoruba-speaking race.