Wanted – Bounty Hunters!

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We were elated to hear that registration for the Giant African Snail bounty programme has officially begun.   Hopefully, the bounty will be sufficient to cause enough people to pay attention to those creepy crawly pests that live amongst us.  So, head on over to the Plant Protection Unit’s headquarters in the Central Cotton Station Building on Friars Hill Road and sign-up.
For too long, we have done little but complain about the snail situation as these voracious creatures have slowly slinked their way across the length and breadth of Antigua, decimating nearly all plant life in their path.  And while the Plant Protection Unit has done all that they can with the resources available, there has been little implemented that has  had any dramatic effect on the snail’s population growth.  But now we have a bounty, an enticement, if you like, to engage the public in the fight against the snails.  Maybe the tide will turn.  
In case you are unaware of the significant threat posed by the snails, consider that they are known to eat at least 500 different types of plants, and if fruits or vegetables are not available, they will eat just about anything else including tree bark and some say, even paint.  If you are wondering why there are so many in Antigua, you should know that they reproduce at a rate that would make a rabbit blush. Giant African Snails are hermaphrodites; meaning that they have both male and female reproductive organs.  Although they normally reproduce in pairs, there is no guarantee that if you have one in isolation that you will not see eggs or little snails come along. On average the snails lay around six clutches of eggs every year with an average of 200 eggs per clutch.  That is 1,200 possible snails from each snail! No need for us to do the math for you to see the multiplying effect.
Put simply, in our environment, the Giant African Snail is a pest, and we understand the Plant Protection Unit’s desire to eradicate them.  At the same time, we can’t help but think that there is an opportunity here that we should be exploring.  Sure, our taste buds are not naturally inclined to eat land snails but we eat conch and whelks; and those are nothing more than snails that live in the sea.  Plus, there are more than a few that eat l’escargot which, like the Giant African Snail, is an edible land snail. Not only that, l’escargot is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world.  Unfortunately, the lowly Giant African Snail has not reached those heights, globally, as yet, but they are eaten as a bar snack in Nigeria.
A quick look at our currently unwelcome visitors show that there is potential in farming snail meat.  Giant African Snail meat is apparently very nutritious.  It is said to be high in protein (12-16 percent), and low in fat (0.05-0.80 percent) and cholesterol.  A magic combination. It also has iron content between 45-50mg/kg and contains almost all the amino acids needed by humans. It does not stop there.  Research shows that the ash from the burnt shells of the Giant African Snail is very rich in minerals like iron, potassium and other trace elements like magnesium, manganese, zinc and copper. Beyond being considered beautiful by some, the shells are apparently good sources of calcium for livestock feed production.  And we have not even begun to talk about the claimed medicinal values.
If all of this is true, then we may want to consider capturing and farming the snails.  We are actually surprised that some intrepid entrepreneurial farmer has not seized upon the opportunity and jumped ahead of the pack.  Just think … the snails are relatively cheap to acquire and they reproduce at a fantastic rate. There would be no off-limits season for conservation so revenue should be year-round.  
As we talk about food security and economic diversification, maybe we should add farming of the Giant African Snail to the mix.  In Africa, authorities are giving a hard look at incorporating snails into the micro livestock sources to help supplement the traditional sources of protein as the populations grow and protein sources contract due to a variety of factors; including drought and high costs of feed.  (Those reasons must sound familiar to many.) Low productivity of conventional livestock farmers raising cattle, sheep and goats has led to increased productivity of micro livestock like rabbits, grass-cutters and snails. Yes, grass-cutters as in the ‘greater cane rat,’ which happens to be a delicacy in Ghana.  
  When you boil it down (pun intended), it all comes down to taste.  The French and others love their snails (i.e. l’escargot) and more than just Ghanaians love their rats (i.e. grass-cutters).  And the same way that we may turn our noses at the thought of eating a rat, they may do the same at the thought of eating a sea snail (i.e. conch or whelks).  It is an acquired taste.  And we may want to acquire it soon and begin eating snails, before they eat us out of house and home.  Uh, “Food for thought “(we couldn’t resist)!
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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