Money in snails
by Shawn Cumberbatch
An unusual type of local slow food is on course to become one of the island’s newest foreign exchange earners.
Most Bajans have dismissed it as a slimy pest to be destroyed at all costs, but a young Canadian involved in research showing exporting Giant African Snail was “feasible” and “potentially significantly profitable”, has applied for a $60,000 in grant funding to start a company to farm, process and export the “meat”.
Local agricultural Keith Laurie who is involved in the venture now in its “development stage”, told Barbados TODAY preliminary discussions had been held with the Ministry of Agriculture and that its official approval would be sought.
The effort is being led by Nathaniel Freeman, a student from McGill University who, along with other student researchers Asma Babar, Christie O’Loughlin and Aileen Shu-Yu Wong studied the potential of the snails as food in a study called Bajan Achatina: An Alternative Control Of The Giant African Snail Through Human Consumption In Barbados.
“We are coming up with a company that will process the snails and ship them overseas. That has some potential because I have given up hope that we will get Barbadians to eat them. Most Barbadians just freak when you even mention the snails,” Laurie said today.
“I think that we have got to encourage people to set up snail farms to supply this company with the snail meat that we want to export.
“Nat Freeman, he has applied for a grant from McGill University for CAN$30,000 to go ahead and do the development and he has also worked with people at the business side of UWI on this project.
“It certainly has my fullest support because I think that is the way to go. You would get farmers to commit, we would show them what to do, get them the initial supply of snails and then show them how to feed them and such like.
“I spoke with Ministry of Agriculture’s people and they said once the snails could not escape from the farms they would have no problem with it. Obviously we would have to come up with this whole system of production and get official approval from the ministry.”
“It would control the snails, it would give farmers some little extra money. It is not going to be a multi-million dollar thing, but certainly to pay fifty cents a pound, which the ministry is doing now and burn it is madness, that is the last thing on earth that I would do with them,” he added.
Barbados TODAY was provided with the results of the McGill group’s research, which included raising snails for consumption, tenderising and incorporating them into four signature dishes using local and international recipes and cooking techniques, and hosting a meal event at a local restaurant to “demonstrate that the [GAS] can be a delicious, nutritious and palatable source of food, and exploring the feasibility of canning snails and establishing an export industry for it.
“Owing to the generally great reception of the snail dishes from tourists and a few locals at the meal event, it can be concluded that not only is the Achatina fulica an edible source of food, cuisine incorporating its meat may be a potential area of interest for restaurants catering to the tourist population,” the researchers concluded.
“Additionally, an analysis into the possibility of local sale and exportation of GAS shows that the idea of an economical business has definite potential…
“Exploration into environmentally friendly and economically beneficial methods of controlling the Giant African Snail population in Barbados is a promising direction for the future,” they added.
The meal event mentioned above was held last year at Relish Epicurea, a restaurant located at Limegrove. The snail dishes prepared were Achatina Fritters with tamarind, rum, and muscovado sugar chutney dip; Stuffed Zucchini Boat; Jerk Snail; and Escargot Bourgignon.
A business analysis of the overall effort concluded that based on the data collected, and the market size and reach assessed, “it was determined that this business is feasible and potentially significantly profitable”.
“Steps towards identifying the potential of the business included analysing snail collection methods, designing a snail holding centre, weighing the pros and cons of numerous packaging methods, designing a marketing plan, determining approximate sale prices, and organising shipping and transportation methods,” Freeman and company said.
Laurie said the opportunity was one Barbados should not miss.
“Snail farming has become a big thing in Europe. In Greece with all of its economic problems snail farming has increased by 200 per cent in the last year and Italy has gone big into snail farming. I think that’s what we have to do here, we will have to farm them,” he stated. shawncumberbatch@ barbadostoday.bb