"I sell averagely 1000 snails from my farm per month"
We met Ademolu Onabajo from Lagos (Nigeria), who started his activity five years ago with 4 snails offered by his mother. Today, his production is exported to Europe, America and Asia.
You studied computer science and you are an ICT professional. When did you start farming snails and what motivated you to involve into a snail business?
I started five years ago. I had always been involved in agriculture right from my early age. I kept small rodent and birds which I sold to get pocket money while in school.
My father was an accountant and a poultry and pig farmer. After his death, I sold off the poultry and started managing the piggery.
When I went to polytechnic, I had to enter an agreement with another pig farmer to cater for the pigs. After three years, swine fever destroyed the piggery, so I lost all the pigs and stopped breeding pigs. I continued with crop on a subsistence level.
Then I started searching for what youths can do as self-employment with no capital.
I experimented with sweet potatoes but it was difficult to sell them. I went for the farming of grass cutters; the setup cost was high.
Then, I visited my mother. She gave me four large snails to take home and eat. I gave the snails to my wife. Five days later I saw eggs in the container and that was how I started researching into snail farming.
While searching, I found out you could start with nothing, provided that you can improvise. That was my journey into snail farming.
What a great story. So with no money you started snail farming. When exactly did you start?
To God be the glory for making it fruitful. I started with nothing. I was buying and selling initially. Then, after saving some money from the profits, I started my own farming business. From then on, I started encouraging youths to go into it. Starting small and growing big is my slogan.
I started farming in 2014 but I registered my company, CAPRICORN FARMS LTD, in January 2017. Initially, I was operating without having a company but today my farm is a legal entity, even if there were ups and downs.
You have two children. Were you able to take care of your family by buying and selling snails?
When I started, I was also involved in network and security camera installation. But, I had to face farming squarely when it started growing. I still do network and security camera installation consultancy, but I am mainly a snail farmer now.
Who are the people buying your snails?
I sell them to people who want to start snail farming, to hotels and restaurants and bars. I also sell them to caterers, to individuals and also to retailers.
What quantities does your company sell per month?
My company is a small company. I sell averagely 1000 snails from my farm per month. But I buy from other farms as well.
You did poultry and other activities. You can easily compare. What is the biggest challenge for a snail farmer? Are snails complicated to farm?
Patience is the biggest challenge. Snails take longer time to mature compared to chicken. Snails take up to ten or more months to get to table size. One has to be patient before harvesting.
Snail farming is not complicated. One just needs to learn the skills needed. Feeding snail too is not a problem. They eat fruits and vegetables, which you can supplement with concentrates.
And how to learn? Does someone need to have a big place? Can someone start doing it in a basket for example?
You don’t need a big place. I started in my sitting room. I had a cage in my sitting room with 50 snails and today I have moved to a bigger place.
Which variety of snails is suitable for someone who wants to involve into such an activity?
There are three species of Giant Africa Land Snails: Archatinamarginata(AM), ArchatinaArchatina(AA) and ArchatinaFulica(AF). The most economically viable is the AM because it grows big with less mortality rate. I myself breed the AM species.
If someone wants to buy snails from you to start his farm, how much will it cost him? What quantity does he need?
I always advise beginners to start with “point of lay”. “Point of lay” are snails that are sexually matured and about to start laying eggs. I recommend a minimum of 50 snails to start with.
About their housing, one can improvise if funds are not available to construct one. You can improvise by housing them in used tyres. You can use a damaged or bad refrigerator box. Use your ingenuity and creative mind when you do not have funds.
And what is the cost of one mature snail?
“Point of Lay” are sold from 350 to 450 nairas now, about 0.8 dollars according to the Nigeria currency exchange rate with dollars. Large snails are sold from 500 to 600 nairas now, about 1.6 dollars. During the rainy season, prices drop. During the dry season prices rise. In Europe, large snails are sold for about six dollars.
Is the snail market organized in Nigeria?
No the snail market is not organized yet. It’s an open market for now. We are trying to do something in that area by forming a snail farmers’ association. We have a network called NetGALS, Network of Giant Africa land Snails. We organize conferences annually, to brainstorm on issues affecting snail farming. We have done that this year.
You now export your production…
I do sell it to people who export it. They do their own packaging in crates. I do not export directly. In fact, the local market is not yet satisfied. Snail export is one of the value chains in snail farming.
The exporters buy from different farmers, including me, to meet up their export supply. It’s easier and cheaper for me to sell to exporter and save myself from some stress. Most exporters are not snail farmers, so there is a place for each actor of the value chain.
Who are those exporters and where are the snails sold?
They are Nigerians. They export to Europe and Asia, mostly to America.
When selling for exportation what is the price of a kilogram. Do you sell whole live snails or do you deshell them?
I sell whole live snails. When you deshell, that’s processing and packaging. I’m not in processing and packaging yet. Though I’ll do it soon.
Most export is whole live snails. Only few people process and package before export. This is due to stringent regulations on packaged snails against live ones.
Where can people find you and what advice could you give to people looking for a business and who neither know what to do nor have money?
My farm is at 27 Ibidapokayode Street Agbede Ikorodu Lagos.
I have championed many youth empowerment courses in my area. I have always encouraged youths by telling them that, without a dime, they can create jobs for themselves. All it requires is their strength, raw energy, brain and thought.
They have to use their brain and energy appropriately. They do not have to use their strength for politicians who will only use them and dump them. They have to use their energy for themselves. And finally, they can try snail farming and be self-employed.