An enterprising government official in East China has found that raising an often overlooked member of the animal kingdom can lead to tangible economic benefits.
"My little girls have a good appetite for vegetables," Cong Gang of Xinhong village, Jiangsu province, wrote on WeChat.
He was not talking about his daughters, but his collection of chubby jade snails, which can be harvested for food, drugs and cosmetics. He runs both online and offline businesses selling the gastropods in frozen states. Cong has seen many young people in his village heading to big cities for better work opportunities, leaving the village empty.
"My wife and I found demand for snails by chance on the internet, and it dawned on me that unused rooms could be used as snail farms. So we decided to start the business."
Cong and his wife renovated a 10-square-meter storeroom into a snail farm in October 2016. However, their first attempts at breeding failed. "My wife always fully supported me despite early setbacks and encouraged me to keep at it," Cong said.
After months of trial and error, the couple's snail farm finally succeeded in early 2017.
Cong said his success has enjoyed Party support. When the weather turned cold, the village's Party secretary found a stove for Cong to make sure that the fresh vegetables the snails munched on would not freeze.
To help more people emerge from poverty and increase their incomes, Cong put himself forward as the village's deputy Party secretary and was elected in August.
Two months later, about a year after starting his business, Cong invited five villagers to be partners and employed more than 10 people at his snail farm, which now covers 500 sq m, producing over 750 kilograms of the shelled creatures each month. His monthly sales are over 100,000 yuan ($16,000).
The new job came with more work and additional responsibilities - as well as some headaches.
One time, one of his workers used moldy fodder to feed the snails, causing the deaths of a large number, resulting in a direct economic loss of more than 20,000 yuan.
Cong shouldered the responsibility. "He was a rookie, and I should have taught him more carefully, step by step. I don't want to pass the buck," he said.
Through his business, he teaches villagers snail-breeding skills. He also buys snails from other farms to lower the risk of epidemics.
"I grew up in this village, and I am proud that I can do something to help my fellow villagers live better lives," Cong said.
He said he was like a snail himself, never giving up, always moving forward - and slow as he may be, every step brings him closer to his dream.