Farming cockroaches? Little bugs could become big business

Photo: The Sheridans / Flickr / Creative Commons

Nothing sheds light on a business like a million cockroaches escaping into the countryside.

That’s exactly how China’s booming cockroach industry was thrust into the limelight. The mass escape, which undoubtedly conjured images of a biblical plague, was first reported in August.

Recently, a closer look at China’s crawly industry was recently published in the Los Angeles Times.

According to the Times, China has about 100 cockroach farms, and that number is growing. Why? Because some Chinese can’t get enough of the bugs. The insects are eaten, used in traditional Chinese medicine or used in cosmetics.

Chinese pharmaceutical companies are researching if roaches can be used to treat baldness, cancer and AIDS. Chinese cosmetic companies use the cellulose from the creature’s wings.

One source in the Times article said he’s used pulverized roaches as a facial mask and even to treat his baldness. It’s no wonder farmers are enjoying increasing profits — with such health claims, demand is rising.s: 

From the Los Angeles Times:

“…the price of dried cockroaches has increased tenfold, from about $2 a pound to as much as $20 a pound…”

That price increase happened since 2010.

With low start-up costs, cockroach farming is a business some Chinese entrepreneurs are getting behind. And, If the world heeds the United Nations’ call to action, cockroach farmers may see even larger profits.

Entomophagy (eating insects)

In 2013, the UN released a report promoting insects as a low-fat, high-protein food for livestock, pets and yes — people. Bugs continue to be an important source of protein around the world, but insects could become even more important as the world population approaches 8 billion people.

By 2050, the United Nations estimates, farmers will have to nearly double food production to feed everybody. That’s where insects could come in handy. With low resource demands, and the relative ease of rearing them, insects may very well pull humanity from the food cliff.

Report: Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security

It’s estimated that 2 billion people eat insects.

More than 1,900 insect species are consumed around the world — the most commonly consumed being beetles and caterpillars. Ants, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets also make the list of edible creepy crawlers.

Though insects are now on plates and kabobs around the globe, according to historical accounts, insects have always been on our plates.

Farming insects is nothing new

Many of the insects eaten today are caught in the wild, but humans have been farming insects for thousands of years — bees and silkworms come to mind.

Efforts to domesticate bees are depicted in Egyptian art from around 4,500 ago, and the Chinese kept silkworms as early as about 5,000 years ago. Nowadays, people are farming mealworms, housefly larvae and black soldier flies, mainly for animal feed. According to Reuters, more than 10 companies worldwide are developing insect-based animal feed. 

Related: The cicada swarm may be good news for foodies

However, Thailand is known to have cricket farms that farm for human production, The UN report says many of the farms are simply backyard sheds. Nevertheless, as of 2012, the country had about 20,000 cricket farms.

America’s insect industry

Modern Farmer reported that one American company is rearing and selling insects for human consumption, Hotlix. The candy company is known for its “InsectNside suckers.”

Hotlix sells fruit-flavored suckers containing ants, mealworms, scorpions and crickets. The company also sells a line of “Insect Snax,” that feature lightly seasoned crickets and worms.

Eating insects remain a novelty, however. This summer, when the 17-year cicada brood emerged, they quickly became the target of adventurous eaters. The bugs even inspired a cicada cookbook.

Restaurants that dished up the critters made headlines. 

Give them a try, maybe?

If you’re still skeptical, Scientific American has a list of insects you could be eating in the future. The list was spawned from a group of students at McGill University in Montreal. The students won the 2013 Hult Prize for producing a flour made from insects.

If you’re looking to score some edible insects of your own, the blog Girl Meets Bug has a good resource page.

About the Author

Will Flannigan is Farm and Dairy's online editor. He grew up in Salem, Ohio, and is new to the agricultural scene. Will enjoys hiking, community theater and learning new things. More Stories by Will Flannigan

One Comment

  1. howard says:

    Hello will,

    Can you tell me how can i find out if there are any pharmamedical or hospital looking large quantity of cockroach? We could have out 10- 20 pounds per weeks and potentially more..if there is a demand.

    rgds,
    -howard

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