Solace in Snail Greenhouses
A young Ghanaian entrepreneur and an awardee of UNDP supported Youth Innovation for Sustainable Development (YISD) Challenge finds economic freedom
Felix Appiah Nyarko recalled how the question “why can’t I rear snails” lingered on and clouded his mind for days, weeks and months. This was when he visited his grandfather in his cocoa farm in their village in the Ashanti Region of Ghana six years ago. After graduating from the University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with many unsuccessful attempts to find a job, Felix was awaken to go into snail rearing when he decided to pay attention to how his grandfather hunted for snails in his farm for the family’s consumption.
“If we can rear animals and fish, why not snails”. This mind-boggling question he said, could not let him sleep well until he finally started snail farming in the year 2015. He then established a company “Trisolace”, a name he coined as a positive move to try and find solace in the snail business.
In Ghana, snails have long been a basic diet and a source of animal protein. But the challenge is that, they are not always available especially during the dry season. Ironically, snail farming is not common because traditionally they are often picked from the forest or bush for meals.
A Rewarding Journey
For Felix, his decision to venture into snail rearing at age 23 was the best thing that happened to him right after school. Today, he is self-reliant with a business he describes as a gold mine because he rears snails for export, trains people, builds snail greenhouses for clients and offers technical support at a fee. The annual return on investment he indicated is good due to good sales. Cost of snails in some local markets and eateries in Accra is incredibly high, and currently four pieces of snails are being sold between GH¢80-100 (about $13-17).
The business opportunities, according to Felix, have been gratifying. For instance, in 2019, he and 15 other young innovators benefited from a USD80,000 grant award from the Youth Innovation for Sustainable Development (YISD) Challenge supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the National Youth Authority of Ghana. The Challenge held under the Ghana YouthConnekt platform aimed to support young people in Ghana to develop and test innovative ideas towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 16 young innovators also benefited from business development, incubation, coaching and mentorship programme which was offered in partnership with the Ashesi Design Lab.
“Following the business development incubation, particularly on design thinking and the loss leader approach, I developed a model that am using to offer free snail training to young people and various groups including churches, schools and communities. After each training, some people would always want more knowledge and this is when I get clients for further training and technical support at a fee”, Felix stated.
Thanks to the support from the YISD challenge, Felix has migrated his snail rearing from recycled car tyres and locally-made-boxes from scrap metals into greenhouses. Using nets, pipes and rubber as foundation, he has so far built 16 greenhouses in Accra, out of which 12 are for his outgrowing clients. The structures house green leafy vegetables as feed for the snails and have in-built irrigation systems with sprinklers which uses dug well water for cost effectiveness.
“I needed to change my snail rearing structure because, human contact was killing the snails. Besides, the tyres and boxes were also not commercially viable as these were only containing 50 snails each as against the current 20,000 capacity per greenhouse. Also, with the green houses, the snail mortality is now minimal”, Felix narrated.
The greenhouse concept was a product from investment of some of the YISD grant in research and development. “I travelled to Nigeria to learn more about snail farming in an eco-friendly way. There, I met a strong partner, who is a Zimbabwean and he is currently my Head of Engineering and Innovation, helping build the physical structure after I designed it. I now have four full-time employees and mostly engage casual workers”, noted Felix.
The grant he said, has also been a catalyst for further funding opportunities as he is currently waiting for another award of €15,000 grant that Trisolace recently won from the Agence Française de Développement (French Development Agency), resulting from a contest run by InnoHub Ghana.
A Growing Unmet Export Demand
The annual demand for snails in Ghana cannot be overemphasized and the international trade in snails is flourishing. The USA alone imports more than $4million worth of snails annually from all over the world, including Ghana, and there exist other similar markets.
“We currently have an offtake agreement to supply a client in the UK 200,000 snails per month, and this buyer was linked to us by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. This demand we cannot meet, so we are doing an out-grower scheme, where we build the greenhouses for clients and buy back to build up the stock. But for now, we are at only 20% of the export quota, so we need more out-growers”, Felix narrated.
Diversifying for Quick Returns to Meet Demand
One of the strongest partners of Trisolace is Felix’s wife, Evelyn Boadi. “My husband and I have been doing the snail business but since the snails take about a year-to be ready for the market, we are now ploughing back some of the profits into vegetable farming, growing sweet pepper, so we can earn thrice in a year instead of waiting for the year-long, and reinvest in the snail business”, Evelyn hinted. The Nyarko family noted that they have already established partnerships with leading shopping malls in Ghana for the purchase of the fresh vegetables.
For Felix, his dream is to build more snail greenhouses where more youth with no capital can come, farm and pay him a fee for the use of his facility after he purchases the snails from them for export.
If many young people decide to drive innovations, the world can raise more business leaders and changemakers to advance and deliver tangible solutions for sustainable development.