Snails, which used to be thrown away as having no worth when they would come in fishing nets, are now going to become a source of earning foreign currency.
Two companies, from Vietnam and Thailand, have already placed orders for snails from Bangladesh.
Save and Safety International, a Bangladeshi importer and exporter, applied to the commerce ministry on 13 February, seeking permission to export 2,000 tonnes of snails to the countries.
Mehedi Hossain, Save and Safety International's proprietor, told The Business Standard, "Snails have not been exported from Bangladesh so far. We have received orders from Vietnam and Thailand for exporting 1,000 tonnes of snails to each of the countries. The export price of per kilogramme of snails would be around $1. We will start exporting it after getting the approval of the commerce ministry."
"We import fish from a big company in India. The company exports 20-25 tonnes of snails to Vietnam and Thailand every week. We have received export orders from Thailand and Vietnam through that Indian company as the demand for snails has increased in both the countries. With the approval of the commerce ministry, it will be possible to export snails worth Tk500 crore a year," he added.
"We are keen to take advantage of any export potential," a commerce ministry official said.
However, since snails have never been exported from Bangladesh, the opinion of the Fisheries and Livestock Department will be sought before taking a decision in this regard, he added.
According to Food Dive, the international snail export market is worth $1.2 billion.
Japan, Italy, China, France, Spain, Vietnam, Thailand, and other countries import about three lakh tonnes of snails per year. Top exporters include: Peru, Morocco, Indonesia, China, India, Mexico, and Indonesia.
Monirul H Khan, professor of Zoology at Jahangirnagar University, said the area from where the snails will be collected for export should be surveyed – to see how many snails are there.
"The amount of snails that can be collected from a particular area without harming the environment should also be taken into consideration," he said.
It would not be right to start exporting snails suddenly without any study being done, he added.
Born in Satkhira's Shyamnagar upazila, Mehedi said a large number of snails are caught in fishing nets in the Sundarbans. On average, about 20 tonnes of snails are found every day. Earlier, these snails were sold at Tk20-25 per kilogramme to the duck farms of these areas. But due to the increased salinity in the water of the area, there are no duck farms now.
So the fishermen threw away the snails caught in the net, he said.
If the government allows snail exports, they will collect snails from the fishermen at a rate of Tk20-25 per kilogramme and export them, added Mehedi.
"No processing will be required before exporting the snails. The snails must reach buyers within 72 hours of collection. The day we collect them, we will bring them to the airport in Dhaka and send them abroad by flight. Our cost will be around Tk50 per kilogramme and I have got the export order at around $1 or Tk85 per kilogramme," said Mehedi.
He said they will export 500 tonnes of snails to Vietnam and Thailand, each, if they get the permission to do so. There are plans to seek new permits after exporting the initial 1,000 tonnes.
In 2014, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock. Focusing on the possibility of oyster exports to Malaysia, the prime minister directed that necessary steps be taken to increase exports of snails, oysters and crabs.
According to the officials of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, about 450 species of snails are found in the water bodies, including: ponds, canals, beels, haors, and baors of the country.
Snails act as biofilters to maintain good water quality. The Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock has a project to conserve snails and oysters, produce their fry and cultivate them to protect biodiversity.
There is also a demand for snails in the cosmetics industry. In Bangladesh, some ethnic minority groups eat snails. Members of such groups living in Nalitabari of Sherpur district cultivate snails on a small scale.