26 August 2023
China is facing a continuing decrease in its supply of earthworms used for medicine. Hunters in Vietnam are attempting to catch the animals to meet Chinese demand.
Chinese traditional medicine uses earthworms to treat several conditions, including fever, arthritis and lung problems. But overhunting has made it difficult to keep harvesting the animals in China.
This has led hunters in Vietnam to dig up earthworms to sell to Chinese companies. However, Vietnamese farmers depend on the animals to keep their fields fertile and the environment balanced. The earthworm harvesting, mainly in northern areas of the country, is hurting farming operations.
Chinese buyers are offering a lot of money for earthworms, Vietnam's VnExpress recently reported. The harvests are taking place unlawfully at private fields and fruit farms, the news service said.
The hunts have led orange farmers in Hoa Binh province to carry out 24-hour guard operations to stop the poachers, Vietnam's VTC News reported. The farmers have asked Vietnamese agriculture officials for help. VOA's Vietnamese service contacted the country's Agriculture Ministry for comment, but did not receive an answer.
Catching earthworms is "easy money" for poachers, the Vietnamnet newspaper reported, with each kilogram of wet earthworms bringing in between $3 to $3.30. Some poachers can capture up to 100 to 120 kilograms of earthworms per night, earning hundreds of dollars, Vietnamnet said.
Hunters use electric signals to drive earthworms up to the surface. The animals are then processed before being sold to Chinese sellers, the newspaper reported.
The harvesting activities have led to an "extinction-level ecological disaster" in China. Poachers who now face police enforcement in China are looking to Vietnam for earthworms.
Biologist Nguyen Lan Hung is a professor at Hanoi's National University of Education and chief of Vietnam's Association for Biological Sciences. He told VOA the usefulness of earthworms has a long history in traditional medicine.
"During the anti-French independence war, our soldiers used to eat earthworms to treat malaria," Hung said. He noted that they are now used to make heart and brain drugs. Hung suggested setting up legal farming of earthworms to prevent poaching. The country already has experience raising worms used for breaking down substances in soil.
Vo Tong Xuan is an agronomist who is also president of Vietnam's Nam Can Tho University. Both Xuan and Hung warned that the collection process damages the quality of the soil, crops and overall agriculture environment. Without earthworms, soil can become hard and roots find it difficult to draw in water, Xuan said. This can harm plant growth and also cause flooding.
Xuan said he would like Vietnam to criminalize the gathering of earthworms with electricity. For now, poachers are only detained and released after police seize their devices and captures, VTC News reported.
The earthworm is not the only in-demand product in China that has been sought in Vietnam. In the past, this has included buffalo hooves, leeches and nut products for use in traditional medicine. Those efforts also caused environmental damage in Vietnam.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Le Nguyen reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English.
Words in This Story
poach – v. to illegally catch of kill animals
extinction – n. a situation in which a kind of animal no longer exists
leech – n. a kind of worm that lives in wet places and attaches itself to the bodies of humans and animals to feed on their blood