South Africa has serious potential to become a pretty decent snail farming nation, experts agreed during a recent Gather To Grow session hosted by Food For Mzansi on Twitter.
During the session, experts weighed in on heliculture – commonly known as snail farming – in Mzansi. They say the sector needs to gain more traction amongst farmers, receive the full force of government support, and become better organised as an industry.
Snail farming is the process reproducing, growing and selling snails for human consumption, either as an escargot or to acquire snail gel for the use in cosmetics.
Snail eggs have more recently been used as snail caviar or white caviar. When the word ‘escargot’ is mentioned, countries such as France, Spain and Italy come to mind, but edible snails have been placed on many menus across the globe.
However, the snail farming industry in South Africa is still very small in comparison to international players, Michael Beetge, co-founder of Goshen Snail Farm, says.
Goshen Organic Snail Farm is the only heliculture research and development centre in South Africa, for the reproduction of snails.
“We are way off from what [is being done] internationally… We went to a snail processing factory in Turkey and the tonnes that they were doing was about 3 200 tonnes a year. That’s huge.”
Goshen Organic Snail Farm is looking at producing close to 400 tonnes next year at their factory in Cape Town. This will be from their first line of supply, Beetge explains.
“We are hoping that our second line of supply – farmers contracted to the factory but not actual partners – would also produce 400 tonnes a year. So then we are looking quite comfortable at 800 tonnes a year.”
While this is a far stretch, Goshen hopes to get close to this target.
“We’ve partnered up with farmers in the factory, and those farmers along with us are basically trying to grow the first chain of supply to such an extent that we can comfortably take on larger clients,” Beetge says.
SA in a good position
Meanwhile, Rory Schultz, founder of Wall Fish Farm, agrees with his heliculture counterpart that South Africa is still a new and small player on the international snail farming stage. Therefore the country cannot compete competitively with players like Turkey.
“But I think we are a farming nation and in a good position to do well at it. We’ve got good climate. Like Europe, we are likely to farm all year around. So we can become a pretty decent snail farming nation,” Schultz states.
Beetge is also of the view that the industry needs to be better organised and be represented by an industry body. As it stands, Goshen Organic Snail Farm is only body to control standards and procedures in South Africa.
“In the beginning we did play around [with the idea of] getting a body but I think it was too early. We sort of had to retract out of it, only because it’s so new.”
He points out that industry players struggled to find common ground on a clear way to move the industry forward.
And industry support?
Beetge, however, believes that in the future there will be space again for a heliculture body to take charge, and be the driving force behind standards and procedures. But for now, Goshen Organic Snail Farm stands in the gap.
“The factory sort of leads the quality control and sets the standard of what is needed in order to secure good quality products,” Beetge explains.
“We’ve done a bit of chatting to different departments in different provinces [for support], but I think it still so new, so no one really has gotten involved [on a big scale].”
Beetge says the industry does enjoy support from the department of environment, forestry and fisheries when it comes to standards on importing and exporting. He is hopeful that their industry will eventually also enjoy the support of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development.
Meanwhile Schultz reckons that South Africa is showing a positive uptick in snail farming interest.
He believes that if more people become involved, the industry will mature and more industry knowledge will be available. This, he hopes, will eventually lead to better support for this growing industry in Mzansi.
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