By Mercy Imali and George Tubei
Wangui Waweru would frequently travel to Uganda to purchase clothes that she would resale at a profit in Kenya.
On one of her travels, she sat next to an extremely chatty Cameroonian passenger. Halfway through their journey, he fished out his packed dinner and asked her to join him.
“Because he was chatty and I wanted him to stop, I obliged. After we were through, he asked me how the dinner was. I admitted that it was great because for real it was delicious.
He then turned around and told me….’you see, snails are the sweetest meat on earth.’ To be honest, I was in total shock, here I was crying and at the same time trying to vomit. I was thinking, is this guy a witch or what,” Wangui reminisces.
Seeing how stressed and shocked she was, her co-passenger slowly enlightened her on the benefits of snail meat.
“He made me understand a lot about snails from what kind of animal it is, how it is consumed, to its many health benefits. By the time we arrived in Nakuru, I had learnt so much about snail farming. The very next day, I went on the internet and researched everything he had told me about these slimy creatures,” Wangui sighs.
“I was blown away, it was indeed true, believe you me, I found myself calling the guy and requested to tour the snail farms he had spoken about. And just like that my journey into snail farming began,” Wangui fondly remembers.
Snail farming in Kenya
A key driving factor was that snails unlike livestock do not require sackful to feed. She was able to feed the snails on vegetables and fruit pieces. Cabbages and watermelon being their favourite.
Today, Ms. Wangui is the poster child of snail farming in Kenya. She has three farms, with full time workers tasked with caring for her over 30,000 snails.
The mother of three sells and supplies snail meat popularly known as escargot to some of the finest restaurants in Kenya. That’s not all, she also exports live snails, slime and snail powder abroad.
Adding a cap to her head is she has now captured the United States market. As part of her giving back to society, Wangui donates snail shells to Lanet Umoja Youth Group who make jewellery and décor items.
She offers tips on starting out, “Determine what part of the value chain that you will be engaged in, is it the live snails or its by-products. Ensure that you consult KWS to get the required permit/s as snails are considered to be wild animals, even if they are in your garden.
I paid KSh1500 for a live snails permit. Do your research and go for training by a KWS approved trainer. Seek approval from relevant government agencies,” Wangui states.
The businesswoman is unrelenting in her mission to change perspectives about one of the most misunderstood animals on earth, the giant African snail.
“Everywhere I go I preach the message that snails are low in fat and an excellent source of iron, magnesium, protein, calcium, phosphorus, folate, copper, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12 and K. Women really gobble down this information,” she chuckles
“When I started this business many people weren’t convinced. They didn’t understand what I was doing. A lot of people actually thought I must have been bewitched. It came to a point that I was disowned by everyone, including my own kids because they were not getting me. I have worked to create awareness. Thanks to social media, people are coming round to consuming and even using snail by-products,” Wangui emphasizes.
However, the profitable slimy business has come with a huge bag of challenges.
Wangui reveals that during the Covid pandemic she went through hell, as some people extensively destroyed her business properties as they believed snails had something to do with the spread of Covid.
Despite this major setback, she bounced back and increased her product offering to include snail serum, a line of soaps and the mother of it all, Snail Therapy Facials.
With an initial investment of Ksh1500, the world is now Wangui’s Oyster.