This squat concrete building was once a chicken coop, but now it’s part of a farm with an entirely different kind of livestock — millions of cockroaches.
Inside, squirming masses of the reddish-brown insects dart between sheets of corrugated metal and egg cartons that have been tied together to provide the kind of dark hiding places they favor.
Wang Fuming kneels down and pulls out one of the nests. Unaccustomed to the light, the roaches scurry about, a few heading straight up his arm toward his short-sleeve shirt.
“Nothing to be afraid of,” Wang counsels visitors who are shrinking back into the hallway, where stray cockroaches cling to a ceiling that’s perilously close overhead.
Although cockroaches evoke a visceral dread for most people, Wang looks at them fondly as his fortune — and his future.
The 43-year-old businessman is the largest cockroach producer in China (and thus probably in the world), with six farms populated by an estimated 10 million cockroaches. He sells them to producers of Asian medicine and to cosmetic companies that value the insects as a cheap source of protein as well as for the cellulose-like substance on their wings.
The favored breed for this purpose is the Periplaneta americana, or American cockroach, a reddish-brown insect that grows to about 1.6 inches long and, when mature, can fly, as opposed to the smaller, darker, wingless German cockroach.
Since Wang got into the business in 2010, the price of dried cockroaches has increased tenfold, from about $2 a pound to as much as $20, as manufacturers of traditional medicine stockpile pulverized cockroach powder.
“I thought about raising pigs, but with traditional farming, the profit margins are very low,” Wang said. “With cockroaches, you can invest 20 yuan and get back 150 yuan,” or $3.25 for a return of $11.
As a boy he had liked collecting insects, so he started with scorpions and beetles, both used in traditional medicine and served as a delicacy. One batch of his beetle eggs turned out to be contaminated with cockroach eggs.
“I was accidentally raising cockroaches and then I realized they were the easiest and most profitable,” he said.
The start-up costs are minimal — Wang bought only eggs, a run-down abandoned chicken coop and the roofing tile. Notoriously hearty, roaches aren’t susceptible to the same diseases as farm animals. As for feeding them, cockroaches are omnivores, though they favor rotten vegetables. Wang feeds his brood with potato and pumpkin peelings discarded from nearby restaurants.
Killing them is easy too: Just scoop or vacuum them out of their nests and dunk them in a big vat of boiling water. Then they’re dried in the sun like chile peppers.
Source: Los Angeles Times