Thai farmers on the cash trail with snail slime

NAKHON NAYOK, Thailand (AFP) – Giant snails inch across a plate of pumpkin and cucumber in central Thailand, an “organic” diet to tease the prized collagen-rich mucus from the molluscs, which to some cosmetic firms are now more valuable than gold.

The snails at Phatinisiri Thangkeaw’s farm were once the scourge of rice farmers, loathed for eating the buds of new crops.

“Farmers used to throw them on the road or in the rivers,” Phatinisiri told AFP. “But now they sell them to me to earn extra money.”

With her 1,000 snails, the teacher makes an extra USD320 to USD650 a month.

It is one of more than 80 farms in Nakhon Nayok province, two hours from the capital Bangkok, cashing in on the global snail beauty market, estimated at USD314 million, according to research group Coherent Market Insights.

Phatinisiri Thangkeaw milking a snail of its serum at her farm in Nakhon Nayok province. – AFP

The precious slime is patiently “milked” from the glands of the snail by dripping water over it using a pipette.

Its raw form is sold to Aden International, a Thai-based cosmetics company that primarily ships its products to Korea and the United States (US).

The sole snail slime producer in Thailand, Aden was started three years ago as a business-savvy solution to the snail infestation in Nakhon Nayok, said founder Kitpong Puttarathuvanun.

And his bet paid off – Kitpong sells the serum under the Acha brand, but also supplies Korean and American cosmetic companies with a dried powder at 1.8 million baht (USD58,200) per kilogramme, he said.