By Kuria Kimani
Rosemary Odinga is ODM leader Raila Amolo Odinga and mama Ida second-born child. Unlike her younger sister Winnie, She has kept away from politics instead channeling her energies in farming as some of her social media posts attest.
Rosemary nearly lost her eyesight after she suffered a mild stroke in 2017. Even with this setback, her entrepreneurial spirit remained alive. She is the first and only snail farmer in East Africa.
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Here is her inspiring story of snail farming as told by WoK.
Note: Rosemary Odinga has fully regained her eyesight.
Venture into Snail Farming
Rosemary began this interesting and intriguing venture as a hobby in 2007. She recalls her start after a visit to Nigeria saying, “Before I started, I had gone to Nigeria where I had the privilege of visiting former Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo. He is one of the biggest snail farmers there. He is the one who challenged me to think about farming. He was so convincing with the snail farming, I promised to do something when I came back home.”
Back in the country, she trained her eyesight on the subject and consulted widely, meeting the late Musombi, a snail expert at the University of Nairobi who mentored her in learning as much about snails as was possible.
She learned the various types of snails, their behavioural characteristics, environmental preference, market demographics, and breeding. Snails exist in three broad categories namely the Giant African Land Snail – Achatina fulica, Garden Snail – Helix aspersa, and Roman Snail – Helix pomatia.
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These categories further have various species such as West Africa’s Achatina Achatina and East Africa’s Achatina Fulica under the Giant African Land category. Musombi went on to donate thirteen giant African land snails for her to start off her snailery.
Favorable Snail Farming Conditions
Learning through experience and consultation, Rosemary Odinga would better understand the necessary conditions for snails to thrive. These include cool temperatures and wet surfaces. She set up a greenhouse in her Kiserian farm where her snails multiplied in the favorable environment.
For labor, she hired three individuals who would help with the greenhouse workload. She has over three thousand snails in the greenhouse which have now made her a profit-making entrepreneur.
Talking to the Standard in April 2015, Rosemary highlighted the different methods of snail-rearing. There is the free-range system where the snails are let out in an open space and the closed system where the farmer sets up a greenhouse fitted with several basins to host the snails.
She highlighted that they do not use ordinary soil in the project and they have to purchase treated soil that will then be enriched and kept moist for the snails to thrive in. They feed on vitamins thus a farmer needs to invest in vegetables and fruits such as cabbages, kale, and pawpaws.
Snail Business – The Ups
Snails are a delicacy in various communities, societies, and countries. With this in mind, Rosemary setup Shelltops Limited that began working with French restaurants regularly delivering orders. She packs two dozens in 160-gram bags. Surprisingly, there is a huge demand that her snailery cannot handle.
She says, “The orders from high-end hotels became so overwhelming, I could not meet it. Because of the pressure, I decided to just focus on individual clients who comprise expatriates and Kenyans of foreign origin. But I also supply to a few upmarket restaurants.” With time, she specialized in the Achatina Fulica snail species from East Africa.
In talking about preparation for packaging, Rosemary Odinga commented saying, “Some people kill them by placing them in boiled water while others suffocate them. For us, we do not use ‘crude’ methods because our clients are sensitive and they would not eat the meat if they knew that the animal was butchered like that. I will not divulge that secret but let me just say we do it in a ‘special way’ which adheres to international standards.”
Snail Business – The Downs
She said that although it is a lucrative business, there are downsides. She said, “I know this thing may have all the dynamics of a quail project — zero capital, zero labor, an ever ready market and profits! Far from it. There are several steps a farmer has to go through before they can be allowed to rear snails,” she told the Standard.
Rosemary Odinga added that snail farming is regulated in Kenya by the Kenya Wildlife Service which gives operating licenses, strict requirements, and guidelines on how to farm the snails. The interested farmer must also prove that they are knowledgeable enough and have the capacity to breed the slimy creatures. She encourages those interested in the venture to undertake in-depth research to learn more about the processes involved.
On Sunday 23rd January 2022, Rosemary Odinga shared photos of her large vegetable farm on her Facebook page eliciting thousands of reactions online hailing her efforts. She is known for her committed advocacy for alternative agriculture and the promotion of projects that propel Africa.
The photos of the tenderly manicured vegetable rows of cabbages and onions were captioned, “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful.
– Isaiah 30:23. May you all have an amazing Sunday.” Kenyans online had several comments hailing her as “the real mama mboga” and expressed their amazement that despite hailing from a wealthy family, she was actively involved in farming. There were discussions on the need for Kenya’s youth to embrace farming and develop businesses from agriculture.
Early Life and Background
Rosemary Odinga was born on 13th August 1977 in Nairobi. Growing up, she was very close with her late brother Fidel Odinga who had all the hallmarks of becoming a great politician. Her other siblings are Winnie Odinga and Raila Odinga Junior. She is an alumnus of Howard University and the University of Dallas.
Rosemary Odinga is a mother of two daughters who she describes as her pillar and source of motivation. She says, “I draw strength from my daughters… because of them, I’m alive. I said to myself, ‘if I give up now, what am I teaching them? Am I teaching them that whenever you have a hiccup in life to give up?’ And I said ‘No! I have to continue and try and be successful.” This has kept her going through tough moments in her life such as the loss of her eyesight in 2017 but would later regain partial eyesight.
Read her full biography here: Rosemary Odinga Biography, Early Life and Education, Career, Illness, Family & Motherhood