Practitioners of Chinese medicine have incorporated some pretty stomach-churning ingredients into their remedies. Tiger penis, deer antler and snake skin have all been deployed, as have rhino horn and bat faeces.
More recently, Chinese medicine companies have turned their attentions to Periplaneta Americana, the largest of the cockroach species. The science is thin but the claim is that medicine derived from the crushed carcasses of these critters can cure Hepatitis B, as well as assist in rejuventing burned skin.
All of which has stimulated a new industry: that of the cockroach farmer.
Last week WiC went to visit one of these farms on the outskirts of Jinan (in the eastern province Shandong) to see this uniquely Chinese phenomenon first hand.
The first thing that strikes a visitor to Wang Fuming’s farm – a small concrete shed about eight metres long – is the lingering smell. Normally, people don’t pick up on cockroach odour, presumably because they rarely encounter 20 million of them nesting at close quarters. But Wang’s roach nursery is packed with them – and the pong is quite overwhelming.
The farmer claims the stench is actually a positive: the more oppressive the odour, the healthier his harvest. “The smell shows they are rich in amino acid,” he says, and it is his understanding that this is what makes cockroach consumption beneficial to humans.
It also makes the insects an absolute gold mine for him personally. He sells them at Rmb150 ($24.6) a kilogram, a higher price by weight than other farmers get for raising pigs or vegetables. And as Wang also points out, his cockroaches largely look after themselves. His overheads are small: rent, a few people to feed them and empty their litter trays, the costs of the vegetables they eat, and the electricity needed to keep their shed at prime breeding temperature of 30 degrees centigrade.
Wang reckons he makes Rmb1 million of profit a year on his production line. Not bad, for a high school graduate who (in his own words) never believed he would amount to much.
And with the help of a local academic Wang is now trying to vault the value chain, moving beyond farming into the production of cockroach-related goods like anti-hairloss creams, tablets that limit the ill effects of alcohol consumption and even pet food.
The budding entrepreneur realises that many people will be put off by the idea of products made from the household pests. But in his opinion, the cockroach is worthy of a lot more commercial respect.
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