Eating snails for meals has long been associated with certain tribes in Cameroon, which were shunned for the practice. But now high demand from other parts of the country and beyond is making snails a rare commodity. The development organization Heifer International is working to support the commercial production of snails. The group is now increasing its aid to farmers as part of its efforts to end hunger.
Henry Njakoi, a veterinary doctor and Heifer’s country director in Cameroon, blames the decrease in snail population on a number of factors. Among them, he says, is plantation agriculture, which takes a lot of space, and the use of pesticides in these plantations.
Njakoi says Heifer is trying to help farmers seeking to match supply with demand. Thanks to existing snail farming technology in neighboring countries, the farmers already have some knowledge of their own to contribute to the effort. So the organization is concentrating on other aspects of training them to produce snails, such as how to create a habitat, provide nutrition, and promote good health and reproduction. “When you provide the right conditions, they actually do multiply and get ready for the market,” Njakoi explains. Since village farmers lack refrigeration facilities, Heifer International teaches them other methods of preservation.
Njakoi is optimistic about the future of snail farming in Cameroon. He says people will prefer snails to beef, pork and other regular sources of protein because they are “very, very affordable, very nutritious, lean meat, low cholesterol, [provide] a lot of energy and will be prescribed to nursing mothers and malnourished children.” An added advantage, Njakoi says, will be revenue from sales outside Cameroon. “The market is wide, both within the sub-region and beyond.”
Njakoi encourages farmers to contact Heifer International, which also supports the development of animals in the local farming system, like pigs, goats and sheep. In addition, the organization promotes dairy farming and animal traction, using oxen. Alongside other groups, like the World Wildlife Fund and the International Conservation Union, Heifer is working to domesticate the common field grasshopper, or chorthippus brunnbus, a nutritious seasonal species locally known as “Mingbwing.” They surface at night because they are attracted to streetlights, and many people have been killed by cars while hunting the insects. Njakoi says all that is required to benefit from Heifer’s support is a strong demonstration of interest. He says individuals are welcome, but groups work better.