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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Snail boost for sluggish Bosnia
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Sarajevo

Bosnian snail farmer Kojo Lucic
Bosnian Kojo Lucic invested his savings in building a snail farm
Visit the finest restaurants in London, Paris or Rome and you may be in for a surprise.

Those succulent, juicy snails you order might not have been plucked from the rolling hills of Tuscany or the Loire, but rather the valleys and mountains of Bosnia.

Snail farming is a boom industry here - and there are not many boom industries in Bosnia. Just a few years ago, there was not a single snail farm in Bosnia.

Now, it is estimated there are around 300.

"I was a manager in a vehicle factory but was made redundant a couple of years ago," says Kojo Lucic, 54, from a village close to Sarajevo.

"I read an advert in the newspaper which was asking for people to set up snail farms.

"I decided to give it a go and invested most of my savings."

French plates

He turned some land he had into a 2,000 sq metre snail farm, built a fence around it and designed his own irrigation system.

"I bought some books and read about how to run a snail farm. I have had to work very hard, but I hope the rewards will come soon," he says.

This is a perfect environment for them and probably why they are popular
Kojo Lucic

And there is real money to be earned. One kilogram of snails is sold for four euros (2.70).

The aim is for the snail farmer to produce around 3,000kg of snails in a year. That means an annual income of around 12,000 euros (8,100) - around four times the national average wage.

There are three major companies that organise snail farming in Bosnia. They provide support and advice for the farmers and collect and sell the snails once they are ready. Alimenti Naturali, based in Belgrade, is the largest.

"We have an exclusive agreement to represent an Italian company right across South-East Europe," says Radovan Vujic from Alimenti Naturali.

"We first came to Bosnia in 2002. The initial interest was very encouraging. We started off with 20 farms. Today, we have 140 farms.

"We export throughout Europe. France is the number one export destination. Italy is number two."

Ashdown's bulldozer

But what is it about the Bosnian snail? Why is it proving so popular?

Bosnian snail
Bosnian snails: The healthy option for European menus?
"Bosnian snails tend to be slightly bigger than other snails, certainly compared to those in northern Serbia," says Mr Vujic.

"These are healthy snails. No chemicals or pesticides. This is a perfect environment for them and probably why they are popular," says Mr Lucic. He proudly shows me some of his specimens, which have only recently emerged from winter hibernation.

But despite the physical attributes of the Bosnian snail, the cheap labour costs and the high unemployment situation are also key factors in the rise of Bosnian snail farming.

The chief international envoy to Bosnia, Lord Ashdown, has made a priority of trying to encourage small businesses. He set up a so-called "Bulldozer" committee to smash through the red tape and old-style communist legislation that hindered the setting up of new companies.

"Small and medium-size firms, like snail farms, represent the future of this country rather than the old pre-war industries, which are not coming back," says Vedran Persic from Lord Ashdown's office.

Meanwhile, Alimenti Naturali has plans to expand its international operation to Romania, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Albania and Moldova. But there is no word from the company as to whether the snails in these countries will be able to match the beefy Bosnian snail.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
10 Apr 05 |  Country profiles
Bosnia hides scars of division
02 Dec 04 |  Europe


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