Posts Tagged With: Snails

On the banks of the Mekong River.

If you (unlike me) are a big lover of frog legs, this is gonna be your favorite post ever. In the event that you (unlike me) are an eel sushi aficianado, you’ll probably think I should be Freshly Pressed. But if you just like stories about people succeeding against all odds, you’re also in luck. Because this is the tale of people with virtually no land, living by the mighty Mekong, and making their way with a lot of clever ingenuity and a little help from their friends at Heifer.

Not much land to farm here.

Ms. Vo Thi Kim Hoang is 39 years old and lives in Phuoc Loc in the heart of Vietnam’s 15,000 square mile Mekong Delta. Her tidy little house lies on a canal and she is using every square inch of her small back yard and water frontage to maximum advantage.

Ms. Vo Thi Kim Hoang: Frog Whisperer & Eel Queen.

In the canal, she’s raising 2,000 frogs (and tadpoles) in cages she and her husband built.

That’s a whole posse of frogs!

Kim started her enterprise with a $100 revolving loan she got from Heifer (and has paid back). She spent $150 on commercial feed to promote her frogs’ growth, and just sold 1,000 frogs for $250 (that’s just half her crop; she’s fattening up the others for larger profit), and she intends to double her production this year.

Ribbit, ribbit.

That includes selling tadpoles at $50 for 1,000 tadpoles –about the output of one couple’s eggs. Kim is really good at mating her frogs (they have a special “love room”) and 5 days after mating, the eggs hatch and the tadpoles develop. In three weeks, they’ll become baby frogs and four months later, they’re ready for… you know what.

If you’re going to mate frogs, you better be able to tell the boys from the girls.

There’s an almost limitless appetite in Vietnam for frogs’ legs so Kim has no problem selling her frogs to a food aggregator for the supermarkets. The same goes for eels, a big delicacy in this fish-loving land. But eels are a bit more demanding to raise than frogs.

The whole back yard is devoted to eels (and one heifer).

First, she and her husband built four big plastic-lined tanks in their backyard (at @$20 each). They paid $300 for 120 kilos of eel fingerlings (about 3,000), but they don’t need to buy commercial food because Kim feeds her eels snails, which the eels love.

Yep, those are the ones!

Snail eggs… eecchhh!

Snails grow wild in all the rice fields, and they’re a huge pest for the farmers, ravishing the tender rice plants. So every dawn and dusk, Kim does her farmer friends a favor and goes out to the fields and collects about 45 pounds of snails, scoops out their flesh, chops it up and feeds it to her eels. In six months, her 3,000 eels will weigh between ¼  to ½ kilo each, that she can sell for $5/kilo directly to the supermarket, netting her about $3,000. Now that will be a big slimy day!

Kim’s healthy crop of eels.

I love how the river people in Vietnam use absolutely every inch of their property to prosper– and grab every opportunity with both hands. Not only has the $100/family Heifer revolving fund allowed people in the Self-Help Group to start new enterprises and invest in themselves, each participant also receives 52 Heifer trainings in how to feed, shelter and breed their animals (or fish or amphibians)– and local representatives are also sent to other villages to learn their best techniques and good ideas.

Future eel farmer of Vietnam….

When you consider how quickly someone who’s raised themselves from poverty can sink back into it – with a crop failure, crash in meat prices, epidemic or natural disaster (this is flood country)—the logic of diversification deftly practiced by these river people of Vietnam is irrefutable.

Despite my fear of eels (of course they dropped one right on my foot, causing me to do the girly scream and 6-foot vertical leap), even I can see the beauty here. For one thing, what’s not to like about an animal that starts out female, lays eggs, then becomes a male (and has to raise the children)??

An eel and a snake met in a bowl….

Reely cool, right?

Categories: Animals, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, Vietnam, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

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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