Poverty, slimed.

What could be a more perfect creation than a snail? Oh sure, they look kind of creepy, what with their long grasping tongues and rapacious need for water … and nobody would agree with that more than the Nkongsamba farmers in Groupe d’Initiative Commune (GIC) Placanamec, who started raising snails in this Heifer-sponsored project in 2010.

Daniel Nikanche, snail convert

“At first, we thought snails were from nasty, dark places in the forest and we didn’t want anything to do with them,” explained Daniel Nkanche, president of the GIC group. He’s right: snails live in the humid forests around Nkongsamba, Cameroon and are creatures of the night. In fact, they have been so voraciously hunted after dark, despite dangers of snake bites and violence, snails are endangered here in the wild.

But another group of farmers told the GIC Placanamec folks how rich the snails were in protein, minerals and iron; how good they were for children and for healing all kinds of maladies; and how delicious they tasted when cooked (escargot!). The group was also persuaded by the price snails fetch in the local market: $12 for a 15-liter bucket that would be snatched up immediately by eager buyers. So they applied to Heifer, whose staff was eager to protect the snails in the wild and foster an income-producing, nutrition-enhancing livestock program in this poor crossroads town where AIDS, prostitution and poverty has afflicted the population.

Slowly but surely, the Placanamec farmers (90% of them women) began to learn the intricacies of raising good snails.

First, you need to build a bamboo and wood hutch with available materials — that takes a few hours. You need good clean soil; paw-paw and sweet potato leaves for the snails to eat; forage for them to burrow and lay their eggs in; fresh clean water morning and evening to give the snails energy and happiness; and some kind of barricade (like a water moat) to keep out predators like millipedes, mice, rats and red ants.

Adults, babies & eggs

Then you sit back and let them eat, drink and reproduce. Snails are hermaphrodites, meaning the sistas/brothas are doing it for themselves, laying 5-9 eggs at a time, beginning when they are about 4 months old. Most species of snails will generally lay about 32 eggs in their lifetime, and the babies dig their way out of their shells and begin to grow in a week, fattened on a diet of ripe bananas and leaves. The snails are generally eaten after they’ve finished laying their eggs, at about 6 months to a year, when they are 150 grams or more.

But that’s just the tip of the follicle. In addition to the delicious meat they eat roasted or parboiled, the GIC folks use every single part of the snail to profit the family. The shells are ground up and eaten for the calcium to alleviate aches and joint pains, or applied to wounds to heal them faster. The waste parts of the snails are dried, ground, and used to feed chickens. And the slime … well, it’s collected into a skin serum that the women swear makes skin look younger, fresher and wrinkle-free.

My Heifer Cameroon guides snorted that no Western woman would use this product and I had to laugh. “Honey, American women would drink the stuff if they thought their skin would look like Marie’s.”

Marie Ediang, champion snail raiser & skin serum wizard.

And truly, the women’s skin here looked amazing! But maybe it was just the increased nutrition and financial security the snails offer? The families are now eating about 300 snails a month, and with their snail sales, families are able to pay children’s school fees, repair a roof, afford a cell phone, or connect electricity so “my house shines in the night!” one woman claimed proudly.

As we drove away, the Heifer staff were enumerating some of the issues still facing this pilot snail project: there has been some stealing from the hutches, and farmers are not quite meeting high demand in the market. But all I could think was snails =better nutrition for the family (kids love them so much, they’ll sneak into the cages to help themselves) + increased income (especially for women) in a country where malnutrition hovers around 30% and women make less than $1/day.

And then there’s the age-defying slime.

Snails anyone?

Quite frankly, I was ready to dive into the nearest shell myself.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Cameroon, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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28 thoughts on “Poverty, slimed.

  1. I’m going to the fish market, NOW. A bushel of snails, please. I adore eating escargot but never ever did I know about the medicinal benefits of ground-up shells. Love learning something new. And seeing the faces of these women – so expressive. Beautiful.

    Coming soon to the Home Shopping Network, Betty’s Snail Face Cream???

    • Oh, I love that idea, EOSR — but you have to keep the slime refrigerated and it only keeps about 3 days … so obviously, we need Estee Lauder Labs to get on this! I love learning new things that I never knew, too, and was really amazed at the calcium benefits — these people are SO clever!! (and the women’s skin was amazing!!)

  2. Amanda

    Betty, did you try these snails? or the face slime? Great article!

    • No, I’m a total food wimp and don’t like shellfish or seafood (unless it’s a non-fishy fish). But I was dying to try the slime — I mean, why NOT? I just was bashful to ask for a bottle — should have bought it for $3! It’s the slime of 100 snails … wowsa!!

  3. Yup, sign me up for the slime! What gorgeous women with equally gorgeous complexions.

    What a wonderful post and photos, as always.

    • Thanks SO much, Amiable — glad you’re back in the blogging saddle again as I missed your posts!! (seriously, those women were LUMINOUS — and their hair was incredible, too!)

  4. totally amazing!!! thanks.

    • Kathryn, I didn’t realize it at all, either — but the minute I heard there was a snail project, I was like — oh, I’m in! And it was really fascinating — plus, raising them doesn’t require a lot of land or strength or even forage to take care of them so older people and children can be in charge (if they don’t eat them all!)– and they could replicate this project anywhere it’s warm and humid!! Thanks for your enthusiasm, Miss K!

    • Meg – I’ve loved your facebook comments on the Book Fair — so happy your book is flying off the shelves and can’t wait to order my copy!! Say hi to the other famous authors for me!!

  5. This is fascinating, Betty. I had no idea how snails were raised–or that they were so valuable. This was a truly intriguing, as well as inspiring, post!

  6. Betty: do you see your comments are being posted as Anonymous? They are you, right? Some WordPress glitch?

  7. Martha Radatz

    OK, I have to say this was fascinating. I’d wondered about how Heifer “did” snails, and now I know. However, you didn’t explain the snail-version of Passing On The Gift. Now, about the snail slime…I’m thinkin’ my wrinkles aren’t all that bad!

    • Oh, sorry Martha — the people have passed on both snails AND the trainings to another GIC (organized group) in the town … as everybody has been very eager to get in on this good thing: the money from sales, AND the delicious snails AND the face slime! (And because it’s pretty easy to get set up — they can make the hutch from readily available materials and then start with 1,000 snails — it’s pretty manageable). Plus Marie is really gifted in raising snails and goes through the village every morning helping people with their snails & dispensing advice and counsel!

  8. teresa

    Who would of thought snails could be so wonderful? I ‘m a gardener so snails that eat my veggies get smashed, with no remorse, and no quarter..I’ll have to take your word for it that they are good, but I ain’t putting any snail slime on my skin..But those women do have amaving looking skin!


  9. I hate slugs, too — they’re currently feasting on MY sweet potato vines so I know how much snails of any sort like those … but cooked snails (the big ones) are a delicacy and for years, I’ve known lots of folks who love escargot. I have to say, I would use snail slime on my skin in a minute — I’m sure we have no idea what’s in most of our beauty products!

  10. Fascinating! If they could find a way to preserve the slime, they could market it as a ‘raw material’ and have everyone clamoring for it. Kinda like Argan oil has become a shining star in the pantheon of ingredients lately. Betty…what is the latin name for this particular variety of snail? Could you ask the Heifer folk about this? Happy (snail) trails! I’ve been enjoying your posts!


    • Susan — I will send this to Humphrey, the Assistant Country Director to get his answer (it’s written in my notebook from Cameroon at home, but now I’m in Romania) but I believe they work with two varieties. The one with the longer “nose” is called something like marginata and the other one with the stubbier “tongue” is called achatina. THANKS for your enthusiasm… and yes, I think there is a lot of potential for the slime as a magic ingredient in skin care products. If it works, why NOT?

      • Bingo…’if it works’. I’m all about value and efficacy. People would not care at all about it being slug juice if they trusted the supplier to guarantee 1)Cleanliness & purity and 2)Preservation & shelf-life. For heaven’s sake, how many years did women gladly SWALLOW properly purified pregnant mare urine to get their estrogen suppliments! I’m sure there are plenty of other examples, too!

      • You are so right, Susan (although I always thought Premara was suspect) … but I may have to start raising my own snails
        to get their slime if time keeps having its way with my face! I’m on the Rose Otto trail .. off to the salt mines!

      • abfabsoap

        More Q’s for U…how does one collect & bottle slime goo? I wonder if anyone actually knows what it is in slime goo that is magic for skin? And lastly, is all slime goo the same? We have 8 inch ‘banana’ slugs in our coastal forests here in Western Oregon! Ohhh, a little information can be a dangerous thing!

        I’m sending your blog link to everyone I know…just so wonderful what you’re doing with Heifer. I look forward to using part of the proceeds of my business in the future to support Heifer by encouraging my consumers to participate in their work through the purchase of my products as well as simply going their directly. How great to use a holiday shopping experience to help construct an Ark! Reminds me of that old Shake and Bake commercial..’An’ I helped!’

        Rock on Betty!

  11. abfabsoap

    Oh, and ROMANIA…be sure to try and score some Rose Otto whilst there!

  12. I loved everything about this post Betty. It was fascinating to read. And not just because I love escargots. I did not know all those neat facts about snails. Even instructions on how to build a snail house! And the skin of those women was gorgeous! I loved the photo of the four women sitting together. Wonderful!

  13. Isn’t it SO cool?? I found it amazing that on such a small plot of land, they could raise these snails that provide so much protein AND minerals (the kids don’t have the vitamin deficiencies that afflict so many other children in the country) — and earn valuable extra income. And yeah.. that skin!!! gorgeous!!

  14. Fascinating post Betty. We have such silly ideas about food and which foods are “icky”. Think of resources we waste with out beef industry and compare that to the ease of raising snails …

  15. Profilia

    Do you know where I can buy the snail slime for facial usage?

    • Hi Profilia — It is not available in the USA or outside Cameroon, probably because it’s not been
      vetted by the FDA … but I can tell you, those women’s skin was incredible!!!

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