In France snails are a delicacy, cooked with wine and herbs and served in their shells. Most Americans have heard of, but few have tasted, escargot.
Snails are also consumed as a major part of the diet in West Africa.
Following the adage “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” the snail, instead of a fish, is the backbone of one Tooele native’s plan to end poverty and restore health to the West African country of Ghana.
While completing an internship in Ghana for a degree in finance from Utah State University during the summer of 2011, Nick Romano, a 2004 graduate of Tooele High School, noticed that while snails comprised a large proportion of the diet for the people of Ghana, few snails are harvested in the country.
Some Ghanaians forage local forests for snails for their diet, Romano said.
The people of Ghana consume more than 15,000 tons of snails annually, however less than a quarter of those are produced locally.
The majority of snails that Ghanaians eat are imported from the Ivory Coast and are expensive, Romano said.
After observing the tedious process of foraging and marketing snails in Ghana, Romano’s finance training triggered the inspiration to organize an effort to teach the people of Ghana to be snail farmers.
Romano, who completed a master’s degree in public administration from Brigham Young University in June, is not alone in his project in Ghana. Romano’s wife to be, a fellow MPA student, Annie Stevens Romano, is also involved in the snail business.
When Romano came up with the idea of snail farming, he knew nothing about raising snails. Turning to the Internet and other available resources, Romano quickly became an expert on heliciculture, the art of snail husbandry.
Snails produce around 300 eggs each time they reproduce. At maturity an Achatina snail may reach up to a foot in size.
It takes time to produce the roughly 7,500 snails needed for a high-end sustainable farm, Romano said.
By the end of 2013, Romano hopes his Achatina Snail Farm will produce 100,000 snails for the local market.
Snail farming not only solves a food source problem for Ghana, it also addresses a nutritional deficiency in the Ghana diet.
Snails are a rich source of protein; they also are very high in iron. An important nutrient in Ghana, a country plagued with maternal and infant anemia.
Local farming of snails in Ghana will replace the expensive importation of snails and reduce the reliance on a dwindling supply of native snails.
Wild snails in Ghana are on the decline. Deforestation has destroyed a large portion of the habitat of the giant African land snail, or Achatina.
Compounding the deforestation problem are weather concerns. Two very dry seasons have forced the snail population into hibernation, according to Romano.
Romano’s business, Achatina Snail Farms, has grown from an initial 10 pilot hutches to 50 snail hutches on two acres of land in Ghana. The farm includes a commercial hatchery and nursery and facilities for growing out and processing the snails.
Romano plans to make a “business in a box” available to Ghana farmers for between $300-$400. He will use a franchise model and micro-loans to set up Ghanaians with their own snail farms.
“We will provide training, supplies and knowledge to help the local farmers be successful,” Romano said.
The result will produce food for the country and economic prosperity for the farmer.
Cocoa tree farmers in Ghana can add snail hutches to their existing farms to increase to productivity of the land, according to Romano.
As the amount of snail farms grow in Ghana, Romano will assist in organizing local community snail farm cooperatives that will allow the farmers to work together to achieve the best yield of snails and assist farmers to become self-sufficient as commercial snail farmers.
In 2012, Nick and Annie Romano’s Achatina Snail Farms won second place in the annual social venture competition sponsored by Brigham Young University’s MPA program.
The recognition came with a $4,000 prize that the couple invested in their micro-franchise project.
While the primary intention is to produce snails for human consumption, other markets for snails and snail products will be pursued, according to Romano.
“Snail slime is helpful with the regenerative process and is used in skin care products,” Romano said.
Currently the business model Romano is using produces fresh snails packaged to be sold in markets.
After the snail farms catch on, Romano wants to add canning and smoking facilities for snails in Ghana, so snails can be used for food all year around, even during dry seasons.
“When I was in Ghana working on my internship I fell in love with the people of Ghana,” said Romano. “I wanted to use my experience and knowledge to help them.”