A man supervises a farm breeding wingless cockroaches in the northern province of Bac Ninh. Photo by T. Quang
Chinese traders are helping Vietnamese farmers breed wingless cockroaches for use as traditional medicine in China but scientists say they are an invasive species likely to spread disease.
Nguyen Dinh Nguyen, who has a cockroach farm in Bac Ninh Province near Hanoi, said he learnt from a neighbor working in Taiwan that cockroach breeding is popular in China. He promptly traveled there and bought 100 kg of eggs last year at 150 yuan (US$24) a kilogram.
One kilogram of eggs hatch into some 16,000 cockroaches.
Three traders came to teach him how to raise the cockroaches and one has stayed back,to supervise the operation -- all for free.
“The breeding is very simple and easy,” Nguyen said.
“The feed is also easy to make: you just need some rice bran with chopped vegetables.”
The wingless cockroach (Eupolyphaga sinensis
) is native to Western China and Mongolia where it is known as “tu bie chong.”
Dried wingless cockroaches are offered VND11.7 million a kilo by Chinese dealers
Nguyen said the traders also buy back the cockroaches at VND200,000 a kilogram for fresh ones and VND11.7 million for dried ones.
The insects can be sold after they molt 11 times.
His first batch would be sold in a few months, Nguyen added.
Trong Hoang, a representative of Insects World Company in Dong Nai Province near Ho Chi Minh City, said his company provides breed stock for wingless cockroaches and buys back the roaches from farmers.
One adult cockroach can produce around 400 young ones, he said.
But Nguyen Van Trong, deputy head of the agriculture ministry’s Breeding Department, sounded a warning.
Cockroaches are dangerous insects and transmitters of many diseases like diarrhea, he said.
The wingless cockroach is not allowed to be bred for commercial purposes in Vietnam, he said, adding that killing it is encouraged.
“This is a species Vietnam is trying to exterminate; there is no reason to bring more here to breed.”
Given the increasing popularity of this insect, the ministry on March 7 issued a ban on the import and breeding of the wingless cockroach.
Dr Vu Duc Chinh of the National Institute of Malaria, Parasites and Insects Studies, said the wingless cockroach is a hard-shelled insect and thus hard to kill.
Chinese documents refer to the insect as an ingredient in traditional medicine, but no studies in Vietnam have confirmed its use.
He said it might end up similar to other dangerous invasive species like the red-eared sliders in Hanoi, which eat aquaculture species, and yellow snails (oc buou vang), which destroy paddy fields.
Several pairs of the snail were imported in 1975 from South America, and they served as Vietnam's first big lesson on the dangers of invasive foreign fauna.
They were bred in ponds as a potential food source, but soon went on to become the nemesis of the region’s rice and water spinach crops.
Chinh said: “Vietnam’s quarantine agencies thus have to control this cockroach (breeding) tightly.”
The Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources has taken samples of wingless cockroaches bred by locals to test for specific dangers.
Dr Khuat Dang Long of the institute said cockroaches usually carry many pathogens.
“People are running after quick profits,” he said.
“That is not guaranteed yet, but the risks are.”
Several years ago Chinese traders also encouraged Vietnamese farmers to breed leeches to sell to China for use in medicine, but the business has slowed down after the promises of high prices failed to materialize.
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