Bamenda in the Southern Cameroons, located near Nigeria is host to an influx of people fleeing troubled suburbs in the crisis-ridden former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons. Relindis Ambo has recently sought refuge in Bamenda, where she now lives with her husband, a carpenter and their three children.
To help support her family, Ambo will on most evenings move from one bar to another, selling snails on skewers. The snail skewers, which she packs and carries in clean transparent plastic, spiced with hot pepper and her customers in bars around Bamenda can be seen placing their orders and eating in relish.
Ambo says she just relocated with her family from Buea a major town in the Southern Cameroons to Bamenda because of the crisis. For the six years she lived in Buea, she sold snail sawyer, as it is known in this part of West Africa. When she relocated from Buea to Bamenda, Ambo decided to continue with her business.
According to Ambo, the crisis that led to her relocation from Buea has been a blessing in disguise for her business, as she is now doing much better. In a day, she sells two buckets of snail skewers and according to her, this adds up to better revenue than she used to make, while in Buea.
“Business is perfect in Bamenda,” she says.
In Bamenda, customers pay a minimum amount of CFA F 500 (US $0.7), but some go as high as CFA F 2,000 (US $3) in one go because there is limited competition among sellers of this delicacy.
“We are few of us selling snail sawyer in Bamenda,” she says.
Sellers of this delicacy are fewer in Bamenda because traditionally this part of Southern Cameroons used not to eat snails. Snails were food for coastal populations such as those who live in Buea and Mamfe. However, with time and the movement of people from the grass field to work in coastal areas and people moving from coastal areas to Bamenda, this food culture was exported to Bamenda.
Most people have taken up the growth of snails for sale in Bamenda and players in this space say it is a lucrative business.
According to Ambo, she buys a bucket of unprocessed snails for CFA F 16,000 (US $234) then processes them for sale and can make a comfortable profit.
“With the money I make from selling snail sawyer daily, I can’t work for anybody or for the government because they can’t pay me much as this business does,” she says.
With money from a snail sawyer, Ambo says she can support her family and is happy that the population in Bamenda increasingly appreciates the nutritional and health benefits of eating snails.
There is a belief that applying the slippery liquid from snails on a surgical wound would heal faster.
According to a December 3, 2020, publication on the benefits of eating snails, it states thus, in addition to containing significant sources of protein and low amounts of fat, snails are also useful sources of iron, calcium, vitamin A, and other minerals. Vitamin A helps strengthen the immune system to fight off diseases and strengthens eye vision. It also helps cells in the body to grow.