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The Giant African Snail

Updated on August 26, 2011

The Giant African snail (Achatina achatina), amidst the conception as a serious threat to Agriculture, represents a powerful source of business opportunity with a strong profit potential. Although it is considered an invasive specie which have adverse effect on the ecosystem, human health and Agriculture; a delve into its characteristics and uses can reveal something rather more positive.

It is also called Agate snail or Ghana Tiger Snail. Although It's generally referred to as Congo meat in Nigeria, local rain forest dwellers such as the Binis calls it Egile. While it is known as Isekpe amongst the Urhobo people of Nigeria. It is found shaded in all corners of local markets, but with very high cost price attached.

Natural snail and diversity

Achatina achatina is referred to as the largest terrestrial snail on the globe. It flourishes in west Africa from Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Togo, Benin Republic, to Ivory coast. It is found in moist cool dark places in the day time, usually in holes, under piles of dead plants or in old rocks or stones. It is a nocturnal terrestrial and tropical organism that is rather dormant in the day.

Snails are endowed with special locomotive means. They slide on the slimy mucus they secret on their paths. They use tentacles to feel their paths and detect vibrations in their immediate environments. Like a tortoise, they can easily withdraw to their shells at any slight threat of danger.

Like other gastropod mollusca, the giant African snailis only active when there is rainfall. This is the reason it is mostly found in the tropical rain forest. It soon assumes another nature during the dry season where it undergoes aestivation by secreting calcareous compound that dries and covers the shell when in contact with the air, thus preventing loss of moisture. It is said that it can survive in this dormant state for three years of drought.

Congo meat as a special delicacy

Most part of the Congo meat are fleshy and can easily be separated from the shell. Once removed from the shell, the meat is slimy and must be washed off the slime with special media. Although there is the claim that common salt can be used to remove the slimy mucus, experience is of the opinion that this could complicate the process. Hence, there are two potent recommendations which are the use of lime fruit and or Alum. Alum can reserve the natural aroma of the snail. But Lime fruit can improve the taste by adding an extra Aroma.

Well washed snail are dried of water and ready to be cooked. Sometimes, they are slice laterally, salted and fried. While in other occasions, they are used to prepare stew or soup. Fried snail meat are also pierced into stick and sold as snacks in specialised restaurants.

The business of commercial snail farming

Until recently, most of the snails sold in the market are harvested from the wild. Even as it is seen as an invasive organism in other countries, it seemed to be close to extinction by virtue of the high pace at which it is being picked from the forest, and by extension, deforestation and bush burning. It is rear to still find snails in light forests which are often close to living areas. Snails found in the market today are harvested from very dense thick forests.

Snails are not only seen as important source of protein in Africa, but are as a great source of healthy meat that can reduce or eliminate the likelihood to worry about diseases which are usually traced to blood meat. The Snail meat (Congo meat) is white and bloodless. It has a special characteristic Aroma that confer special taste on stew and other recipes. But it so expensive that it is considered as reserve for the rich.

But snails have recently been domesticated. Snails are Hermaphrodites, and each snail is calculated to lay up to 1200 eggs a year with ninety percent hatching viability. An individual snail can grow up to adult size within six months. The average size of the snail is 9cm by 18cm. But larger sizes of up to 15cm by 30cm have also been discovered.

Snails feeds on soil debris, plants, and poultry feeds. It is the poultry feeds that saw snails being a great farm organism. What is needed is to creat the conducive environment that should be a mimicry of it's natural habitat. This is what was adopted by some clever Nigerians who are currently practicing commercial snail farms which could increase the output and reduce the current expensive market price, if more people are engaged in it's large scale production.

Also there is a strong export potential. Snails are consumed in other west African countries and could be marketable in other countries because of it's great and appealing taste that can easily adapt to the tongue.

Religious and other use of snails

Apart from being a great source of protein and a promising remedy for hunger, the giant African snail has found use in religious and spiritual use. In south America, especially in Brazil, it is used as offering to the deity obatala. In some parts of Africa, it is associated with spirituality and taboos. It is a component of the Izobo offerings to the spirits usually placed at junctions in Edo state of Nigeria. It is also used to serve ogun, the god of iron in the same region.

Roasted snail is also used to serve Olokun, a deity of the river in the riverine areas of the south-south region of Nigeria. Some cultures who are indept practitioners of native African religion, are known to forbid the eating of snails.

Giant snails with their beautiful stripes are also regarded as valuable assets and pets in the west.

Disease, pest and control

The giant African snail, especially the Giant east African snail is considered as a serious pest threat as such attracted various ways of control. In the US for instance, Special attention is given during quarantine to prevent it from entering the country. Some other countries simply adopts hand-picking, use of flames, and chemicals called molluscicides. Pesticides are also shown to be poisonous. The use of salt has also been credited to Bhutan.

The only disease associated with the African giant snail is Aeromonas Liquefaciens.


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    • James Agbogun profile image

      James Agbogun 6 years ago

      Ade, You've just enriched this Hub! Fried Snail on Stew and Rice are such a delicious Combinations. Thank you very much!

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