Farmer explores business of bugs

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Self-proclaimed insect expert breeds cockroaches for medicinal purposes

Wang Fuming shows some of the cockroaches he breeds on his farm in Jinan, Shandong province. [Zong Laisong / China Daily]

Wang Fuming spends 8 hours every day with cockroaches — millions of them. He even dines on them, fried, in the belief they can cure his stomach disease.

Although the insect incites feelings of disgust and dread for many people, the 43-year-old businessman in Shandong province has pinned high hopes on them.

Inside two squat concrete buildings near an elevated highway running through Jinan's Changqing district, Wang keeps as many as 10 million cockroaches in sheets of cartons that resemble battery cages on a hen farm.

Wang's insects are Periplaneta americana, American cockroaches, and different from those commonly found in Chinese homes.

"They're not pests. They're beneficial to human beings," he said as he removed a nest from one cage to show visitors. Some of the cockroaches, disturbed by the sudden change of light, scurried onto his hands and arms. "You see, their wings look quite beautiful in the sunlight, don't they?"

Wang supplies cockroaches to pharmaceutical companies, who use them as medicinal ingredients. Scientists say certain parts of a cockroach can enhance a person's cardiovascular functions as well as combat hepatitis B.

The price of dried cockroaches, on average, reaches 150 yuan ($25) per kilogram and farms are steadily spreading in Shandong, Jiangxi, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

The largest farm, which occupies more than 2 hectares and has an annual production of more than 1 billion American cockroaches, is owned by a pharmaceutical company in Xichang, Sichuan province.

Wang, who brands himself an insect expert, used to breed ground beetles, also an ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine, for 16 years before he switched in 2010.

"I read books about insects and discovered that cockroaches could be used for medical purposes," he said.

His experience with beetles gave him a valuable insight into cockroach farming, especially regarding keeping a steady temperature and catering to their nocturnal nature.

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