Snail farmers make trails in refugee income generation project
By Sulaiman Momodu in Monrovia, Liberia, 14 May 2012
SACLEPEA REFUGEE CAMP, Liberia, May 14 (UNHCR) – Papa Tokpa Sadia, 45, is
all smiles as he picks up a snail and explains how it is extracted from its shell
to prepare a meal. "Snail meat is very delicious and nutritious," says the
Ivorian, who is learning how to rear and harvest the tasty gastropods.
Sadia is one of 30 refugees from Côte d'Ivoire, 20 of them women, studying to
become snail farmers under a UNHCR income generation programme launched
last year in Saclepea Refugee Camp in north-eastern Liberia. It's a business with
bright commercial prospects, according to several experts.
The students are enthusiastic about the new skills they are learning and about
their product and its money making potential – snails are a popular delicacy in
both Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire. Many of the refugee trainees said they used to
collect snails in the forest for their own consumption and to sell.
Some claimed eating snails was excellent for the health and prevented several
diseases because they were rich in nutrients, high in protein and iron, low in
fat and contained amino acids.
The refugees are being trained, thanks to funding support from UNHCR, by the
War Victims Assistance Programme, a Liberian non-governmental organization
whose executive director, Dismas Cupson, learned about snail farming while a
refugee in Ghana. He said that many people had consumed snails in
desperation during the Liberian civil wars (1989-2003) at a time when trade
was frozen and people ate what they could find.
Forced to consume strange flora and fauna, like snail meat, to survive, people
began to acquire a taste for it. "The consumption rate increased tremendously
during and after the civil war," Cupson noted.
The students at what is believed to be Liberia's only snail farm have learned all
the basics about how to breed and raise healthy, meaty "free range" creatures,
including use of soil high in organic content.
Mensor Marie used to eat snails in Côte d'Ivoire. "When we were small, we used
to go into the forest to look for snails. It was very exciting," said the middleaged
student, who was delighted to be on the course. "What we are breeding
here is called the achatina achatina," she told UNHCR.
The achatina achatina, commonly known as the Giant Ghana snail, is native to
West Africa. Some people in Western countries keep them as pets because of
their size and distinctive marking, but here they are a valuable source of
protein, especially for forest dwelling folk.
Marie said the snails were easy to take care of. "We give them things like
potato leaves, cassava leaves, pawpaw [papaya] and oil palm residue," she
Cupson, meanwhile, said that the Liberian health authorities and aid
organizations specializing in nutrition recommended that people eat snails and
this was helping to fuel demand, which "currently outstrips supplies."
He said that a 50 kilogramme bag of wild snails sold for 8,000 Liberian dollars
(US$125) during the rainy season, but in the dry season only imported snails
from Côte d'Ivoire were available at 14,000 Liberian dollars (US$200) per 50kg
Cupson claims that the snail farm in Saclepea, which houses around 1,300
refugees still in Liberia more than a year after last year's brief civil war, is the
only one in Liberia. And although it's a modest operation, with slightly more
than 3,500 snails being reared to maturity, which takes three years, the
project is helping to prepare people to become self-sufficient.
The 30 trainees, when qualified and back home, will be able to start their own
businesses. Not surprisingly, a lot of other refugees as well as members of the
local community have expressed interest in the project.
The UN refugee agency is currently assessing the impact of this and other
income-generation projects aimed at benefitting refugees and their host
communities. One possibility is to extend the scheme to other areas.
Andrew Mbogori, head of UNHCR's sub-office in Saclepea, said the snail farming
experiment had certainly made a difference. "The project is unique," he concluded.