This is a lesson in community edu-macation here. If it sounds patronizing – it is… I was dealing with backward villagers… something every practical farmer knows… Any leader reading this – this approach will add long-term value directly into communities…
Some years ago, in a bid to “inject cash directly” into the community in South Sudan, I went about looking to see what they had “wild in their swamps” that was edible to Mzungu’s (white people) and I could buy from them as “hunter gatherers” – hunting is an exaggeration for snails and clams… but this principle applies…
I discovered the swamps North of Juba (normally, you’d just drive past) – pristine – contained “GuruGuru” and “Malakal Jenge” – Water snails and fresh water clams.
I went to the nearest settlement and found an idle bunch of men sitting at the local duka. I asked if they knew of Guruguru and Malakal Jenge. They did. I said I wanted some. One fisherman brings out a bag of water snails – uses them as bait, using a very simple technique – crush the snail – put the hook through, suspend in water, and wait for fish to bite.
I looked at them – they were decent sized – I had eaten similar sized snails in UK, and smaller in France… perfect!
I picked through the bag – one as big as a baseball! Huge! Perfect as an example of what not to collect. So, I selected 4 snails – One small, two medium sized and one huge.
I explained to them – the small one was too small, the big one too big – if you find big ones, throw them back into the water, they will breed future generations for you. The small ones leave them to grow a few more months. The medium ones, we will buy for cash.
For the fresh water clams, I had some serious problems. I told them I was coming the following week to buy some. Humans do not eat clams in South Sudan. They THROW THE MEAT AWAY and crush the shells for chicken-cattle feed supplements… So, the following week, the fisherman had brought me 2kg of snails, all the correct size. No clams.
I told them I wanted clams, and would be back the following week. The following week – 2kg perfectly sized snails, no clams.
This went on for 4 weeks. They knew I was joking, or was a madman… everyone knew that fresh water clams – (as mentioned above) – you opened them up, threw away the meat, and used the shells as a spoon, or crushed the shell for feeding cows and chickens as a source of calcium.
WHY, given the presence of fish, goats and cows – would a human being WANT to eat a clam? These foreigners are crazy!
I told the fisherman bringing me snails: “If you bring me NO clams, I will not buy snails from you”.
The following week he brings 2kg snails and about 3kg clams. I made a public display of paying him very loudly and a LOT of laughter – this is where the ability to laugh at your own jokes is invaluable – ONLY the rich and the well-off laugh in Afreekia… me and the fisherman were laughing loudly – at silly jokes – clearly we are well-off – more importantly – the fisherman was now well off…
I kept two clams – ‘Joe, the Clam’ and ‘Sam, the Son’ – Joe was aged 30 years, the size of my large hand, Sam was about 6cm across. (See how I moved from “hands to Metric”?) These I used for training the locals in “correct sizing – Sam the Son or smaller – throw back for a few months… Joe the Clam or bigger – throw back for future breeding maneno’s… the rest were edible.
I had a ready market at a friend’s restaurant in Juba – Le Bistro – where I’d cook snails and clams on a weekend. (Never cook in your own restaurant, as a boss – and amateur cook – staff will never tell you are CRAP!) Le Bistro – Max and Mawan – looked like muscled assassins – and were not going to be shy with my bad cooking…
The following week, no less than 6 different sized sacks of clams were waiting: now a different problem.
Apparently, the UN Bengalis, Indians and Chinese bought one clam for 25ssp ($8), bought a kilo for $8 and bought a sack weighing 15kg for $8.
So, a quick civic education lesson – I am not the UN blah di blah, and we were going to pay them $2 per kg. And we had a weighing machine… so whomever had more clams would get more money. Also, very interesting, the UN-Bangali-Chinese connection only “came live at payment time”… for a previously unheard-of water animal.
The first week I bought all – small, big young and old. Then I realized something – clams are big and round… and the big ones – only one fits in a plate. And my technique of keeping them in water for 3 days without food was likely making them lose flesh. We needed to fit 4-6 on a plate.
So, it was then I kept two – which I’d use as Demos – Sam the Clam and Joe the Son. Sam was massive and about 30 years old. Joe was 7 years old and perfect sized, you could get 6 of him on a good sized plate. I gave them their own bucket to live in – and fed them cooked egg yolk and “muddy water” from the river.
I would take Sam and Joe and explain to the gatherers: Sam is 30 years old – when you find something this big, put him back where you found him, because he is the parent and makes more babies for you to harvest. Broodstock! Joe is perfect. If you find smaller – put them back for next year.
And: If we find plastic waste and rubbish on your swamp – we will stop buying from you!
This ensures the big adults were retained in the wild, the under-sized juveniles would be put back in the water, and the gatherers from the community would chase away “dumpsters” who normally dump rubbish on community land.
So, Conservation and environmental preservation by virtue of the $$$.
Well SSP… The snails were well received and no Canadian Euro UN Soldiers did not order them and “Oooo and Ahhhh”… 2-3 plates of “escargot embedded in a pizza base served with garlic bread” were sold daily. At $10. The clams were even more popular – baked, sprinkled with garlic, paprika and a hint of lemon, with a small heap of spaghetti with “creamed garlic sauce” on the side…all dishes were sold at $10, more than the average dish at Le Bistro.
Now this is where “This is Afreeka steps in”. Short Termism, Greed, Ignorance and Illiteracy – at all levels!
The Juba City Council had just trained a batch of officers in hygiene. They turn up – and demand to see the “Sell-By Date” on the clams and snails. NO! This is not fish! NO! This is not meat! It must have a Sell-By Date. Get rid of it or we close the restaurant. So about $150 of freshwater snails and clams gets thrown away.
I went to the local Min-sit-try of Fisheries… and explain – I am not making money, this is to benefit local communities… etc. etc. These guys are the same tribe as the community benefitting…
“Yes, we have decided you should pay $2,500 per license to trade in Snails and Clams, so $2,500 x 2. We have argued for you and reduced it from $10,000…”
I look like I have ‘Free $$$’ printed on my forehead?
I ask Hon. Jacob Lupai: You want me, Nawaz Khan, to pay you money, to benefit your people?
I shook his hand, thanked him, and went back to making money for myself, rather than help local communities.
And that, shee-ple, is why there is no steady sustainable regional export of water snails and clams from the swamps of South Sudan to the whole world.