Communities in small rural and peri-urban towns on the West Coast of South Africa are often dependant on social grants because they have no ability to earn a living wage. With the introduction of savings into West Coast communities (Klawer, Clanwilliam, and Citrusdal), neighbors have been combining their money to create a grassroots social security program, generating a pool of resources to be used as a loan fund for basic needs. Participants have been able to pay off debt, plan ahead for emergency expenses, and decrease dependency on government grants.
In 2005 the West Coast savings groups met to discuss local challenges and develop solutions. One such solution to the limited economic opportunity in the region has been an innovative and widely publicized snail harvesting project, enabling 100 women to access an income, gain basic economic skills, and stimulate development in their region. Combining community development with environmental sustainability, snail harvesting also allows farmers to decrease the use of pesticides, preventing the destruction of the local ecology. The groups formed a partnership with Elezane Industries, a black economic empowerment business, specialising in the export of snails to gourmet food companies abroad. Needing a constant supply of live snails, Elezane hires community groups to harvest and sort snails in fertile regions. After training the West Coast savings group members, Elezane agreed to purchase all snails produced in the region. The West Coast savings groups then, negotiated contracts with local farm owners to harvest snails on their property. Snails acclimatise best in orchards and vineyards, but these are often treated with pesticides. The farmers, in turn, agreed to decrease the use of harmful pesticides.
Clanwilliam Snail Hibernation Facility
By 2006, Elezane assessed the West Coast Snail Harvesters production and encouraged CORC to provide a loan for the construction of a Snail Hibernation Facility in Clanwilliam. This site was chosen for its central location – harvesters from nearby cities (including Klawer and Citrusdal) could access this facility as well. One harvesting group, called Dorka snails, was chosen to manage the Clanwilliam Hibernation Facility. Dorka snails became the middle-man, purchasing snails from the community groups and selling them to Elezane Industries.
The construction of the Clanwilliam Hibernation Facility has greatly improved the chances of success for the West Coast Snail Industry. Given that snails can be kept alive for several weeks in the Hibernation Facility, the cost of transport has been greatly reduced – larger quantities can be transported to Elezane less frequently. These developments have encouraged the expansion of the industry and the employment of several hundred women. The Klawer, Citrusdal and Clanwilliam harvesting groups are organizing the Clanwilliam Hibernation Facility as a cooperative. In an effort to eliminate the middle man and maximize the profit for all stakeholders, the groups have decided to share the running costs and collectively own the Clanwilliam Hibernation Facility. The earnings of each harvesting group will first cover the costs of the facility, and will then be divided up among the workers.
The snail-harvesting programme of West Coast communities was a success for a number of years. The groups reached the tonnage needed to make the work viable. Snail harvesting was identified as a value-added activity in the Western Cape government’s West Coast Development corridor (as per the Spatial Development Framework). There were plans for expanding the model to other savings schemes in the FEDUP network, and expanding the production of these delicacies for Western European and Chinese markets. The hibernation facility and the support structure proved to be a viable option in eliminating intermediaries to the industries. However, by 2008/9 the industry suffered a major blow and the demand decreased rapidly. The groups were forced to cease their activities. However, the Dorca snail group has entered into negotiations with Elezane Industries in setting up a cooperative to upscale this livelihood intervention.