Left behind by the giants, some small niches are found lucrative by less demanding promoters, such as heliciculture or the breeding of edible snails in Tunisia, which seduces many of them.
A Tunisian training center has been advertising on Facebook for some time the organization of a training course in edible snail farming on Saturday and Sunday March 11 and 12, 2023 for 150 dinars, while sale of fishery products, including quantities of snails, was held last Saturday and Sunday March 4 and 5 in Soukra, in the Ariana governorate.
For their part, the European partners have recently helped young Tunisian promoters to set up snail farming projects, including the promoter Atef Zid, who launched his “Baboucha Bargou” project, the name of his brand of snails, in the governorate of Siliana in 2022, in cooperation with German partners (GIZ). The snails are called “babouche” in Tunisian Arabic, after their name in Berber, while in Arabic they are called “halazoun”.
At the same time, several websites and posts on social media continue to highlight the
potential of the sector and the successes achieved.
In this context, the Société Mutuelle d’Héliciculture (SMH) deserves special mention, as it has been working for many years to bring together the productive and commercial efforts of snail breeders, known as “gros gris” snails. This association has contributed to the development of the snail processing industry.
Most of the production is destined for export, while a small part is intended for local consumption and the local market.
Since prehistoric times, Tunisians have learned to eat snails in various parts of the country, but especially in the Tunisian Sahel, in the governorates of Sousse, Mahdia and Monastir.
The most famous snail dishes are Sahelian stew with snails and couscous with snails.
In terms of exports, 675 tons of snails will be exported in 2020, according to the Agency for the Promotion of Agricultural Investments.
Tunisia’s main customers are Italy and France, major producers and consumers of snails. Quantities are also exported to Spain.
A species of small grey snail is called the Burgundy snail, after the name of the French region of Burgundy.
However, in Tunisia, as in several other countries, the main source of supply of snails remains the collection by gathering, which is not sufficient to promote more substantial exports, so it is necessary to promote both breeding and the development of production by encouraging the processing of snails into canned food, in the form of finished and semi-finished products.
These finished and semi-finished products exist on the Tunisian market and are sold at profitable prices.
A snail farm in El Battan (Manouba) sells snails in red sauce for 15 dinars per box of 20 snails, plus 3 dinars for delivery.
Indeed, the collection of snails, like any uncontrolled and unregulated exploitation of natural resources such as snails, can lead to abuses that are detrimental to the sustainability of these resources. In Tunisia, snail collecting is fortunately regulated and takes place during the months of June and July, while it is prohibited from March to May, in the knowledge that the life of snails is interrupted by hibernation in winter and estivation, or the return to activity, in summer.
Thus, production is highest in June and July and almost non-existent in December and January, with the rest of the year devoted to reproduction and maturation. Snails are hermaphrodites, i.e. an individual snail has both male and female sex organs.
Land snails can be found in a wide variety of habitats (forests, meadows, steppes, etc.). Their presence depends on the presence of vegetation on which they can feed.
An official report on snail farming and its prospects in Tunisia, published in 2003, states that “The development of snail farming could be a strategy of choice, particularly for the promotion and diversification of exports”, recommending, in passing, the promotion of breeding and the regularization of collection.
This recommendation remains valid today. The pressure on snail populations in Tunisia has begun to have a negative impact on their sustainability. Experts have recently issued warnings on the subject, deploring the depletion of snail populations in Tunisia as a result of inappropriate collection.
Effects of over-collecting
The academic Mohsen Kalboussi, a biologist by training, wrote recently:
“A recent survey in eastern Tunisia showed that land snails are rare or absent in more than one site. The ban on snail collection between March and May by the authorities is not respected. And the massive export does not only feed on farming. The sheer volume of exports highlights the pressure on natural populations.”
But in addition to over-collecting, he pointed to other factors behind the depletion, including sensitivity to pesticides used in agriculture.
However, a report on snail farming in Tunisia would be incomplete without mentioning the adventure of Mohamed Ghassen Nouira in this field, described as fantastic and fascinating by all those who spoke about it. This Tunisian, now in his fifties, said he had succeeded, for years now, to recreate and reuse for his own care the methods of extracting purple from the murex (a kind of sea snail) used in ancient times by the Phoenicians of the Lebanese city of Tyre and the city of Carthage in Tunisia. It is a violet dye that was once considered a luxury product reserved for great notables, and he sells it for $3,500 a gram.
However, he himself admitted that it takes 45 kg of murex to extract one gram of purple and as if to apologize for this carnage, he said that he consumes the quantities used after extraction.