This Chinese cockroach farm has a billion roaches, a moat full of hungry fish

This Chinese cockroach farm has a billion roaches, a moat full of hungry fish

As for the final work of posting a five-year post for China, I would never have chosen this.

But deep inside a system of tight corridors and shelves, I stand in the dark, filled with noise like the rain that millions of cockroaches eat.

This is a quiet environment, which is one of the quietest sleep applications.

People may have been aware of everything about the situation.

The walls, roof and floors around me, the cockroaches are big and small, and my cameraman Steve Wang scatters his camera light whenever he points at them.

This is a large-scale roach nest: an extensive pipe system that feeds the food waste collected from four industrial-sized hangars and restaurants into shelves for roach to eat.

Dark hallway with cockroaches all over the walls
Hangers for cockroaches are kept in perfect condition: dark, hot and filled with food waste.(ABC News: Steve Wang)

The lights are turned off, the temperature is maintained in the high 20s and the humidity is hard.

“Every day they can eat 50 tons of kitchen waste.”

Cockroaches are common in China

The project in Jangikubei, near the eastern city of Jinan, is different from other cockroach farms in China.

A large facility in the southwest run by the company ‘Good Doctor’ grinds billions of roaches each year for use in Chinese medicine, the project mainly uses them for animal feed.

Two men holding a large pot in a chicken coop
Chickens are there to eat cockroaches on the ground for a healthy, protein-rich diet.(ABC News: Steve Wang)

“If we can grow cockroaches on a large scale, we can provide protein that is beneficial to the whole ecosystem,” says project leader Li Yanrong.

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“We can replace animal feeds filled with antibiotics and provide organic fodder instead, which is good for the animals and the soil.”

What started out as an experiment in tackling food waste has blossomed into a commercial activity, although Mr Li acknowledged it was still in its infancy, and it is unclear whether it will be profitable in the long run.

But the vast fields surrounding the cockroach already have pigs, ducks, chickens and goats that feed on the nutritious cockroach mixture.

Cockroach-eating fish
Cockroaches are prevented from escaping the farm through a trench filled with fish.(ABC News: Steve Wang)

A moat around each hangar is filled with predatory fish that match the taste of the cockroach.

They help ensure that billions or more cockroaches do not escape, wreaking havoc on nearby fields.

Cockroaches are not just pests

Often seen as an insect to be destroyed elsewhere, cockroaches are a lucrative business for 100 cockroach farmers across China.

Crushed cockroaches are listed in Chinese medicine and some medicinal cosmetics under their scientific name, Periplanetta americana.

They are said to be mainly effective in healing scars, while some people eat or drink crushed cockroaches, which, according to the manufacturers, can help reduce the size of tumors.

In some parts of China, bugs are eaten even though they are very rare, and Mr Li tells me that despite their nutrition, he does not cook them personally.

A man in a polo shirt stands outside a factory building
Cockroaches are the best, cheapest protein for farm animals, says Li Yanrong.(ABC News: Steve Wang)

It comes as a relief that he gives us lunch at the Zhangyubi Farm: Pork, chicken and fish are all raised on nutritious cockroach feed.

In addition, as usual for guests visiting Shandong, plenty of beer should be washed all over.

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Mr. Li is well aware of the agricultural conditions in Australia and knows that food waste in Australia often ends up on land.

According to Australian government figures, more than 5 million tonnes per year.

He thinks the agricultural process of feeding food waste to cockroaches to feed animals for human consumption could work abroad.

Cockroach running across a pipe
Cockroaches can be used to reduce land area by consuming all rotting food scraps.(ABC News: Steve Wang)

“The ecological cycle is very important, not only domestically, but globally,” he says.

Elsewhere it may be a tough sale to overcome the general hatred of cockroaches.

But it’s a well-functioning activity that gives me food for thought.

During my last five years in China, I have seen many local ideas thrive overseas, from shipless stock bikes to corona virus control measures.

Maybe cockroach farming is next.

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About the Author: Cory Weinberg

"Alcohol evangelist. Devoted twitter guru. Lifelong coffee expert. Music nerd."

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