A village discovers its ‘black gold’ in the form of medicinal beetles

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A village discovers its ‘black gold’ in the form of medicinal beetles

On this beetle farm, sawdust from the oak trees was piled up like dunes, while thumb-sized beetles squirmed around nearby. Though considered a pest by many, to the inhabitants of Dodeok-ri in South Jeolla province, they are black gold: The 15 households there earned 23 million won ($24,000) each last year selling larvae and adult beetles.
Originally farmers of shitake mushrooms, the residents of Dodeok-ri began breeding beetles in 1999. They stumbled across the potential of the beetles by accident, when Park Jong-hyeon, a farmer, discovered that the beetles were laying eggs in the discarded oak boards that the shitake mushrooms were growing on.
But instead of fretting, Mr. Park saw it as a business opportunity. Recalling that beetles and their larvae had been used as a traditional medicine, the villagers began breeding beetles.
“We decided to recycle the discarded oak lumber for use as a breeding ground for beetles, and then use sawdust from the lumber as fertilizer,” said Mr. Park, who was the first person in the village to breed beetles.
To collect sufficient beetles for breeding, Mr. Park and a few friends laid thick layers of sawdust from oak trees in the village. When flocks of beetles converged on the site, Mr. Park took the eggs they laid and moved them to a greenhouse designed to farm the insects.
It takes about a year for beetles to mature fully, during which time they grow from 30 millimeters (1.3 inches) to 55 millimeters long. Beetles usually mature in July, and the females lay eggs in September, shortly before they die. Though the larvae arrive soon afterward, they shed their skin and hibernate over the winter months.
By using technology, the farmers found out they could speed up the incubation period, producing adult insects much more quickly. They also bought drying equipment at a cost of 26 million won, which by keeping the larvae dry supposedly ensures that the medicine is of the best quality.
In 2002, some of the villagers formed an association to research beetles, and the number of households breeding the insects jumped from two to 15. The farmers now jointly distribute larvae through the association, which is based in a jointly owned farm.
Despite the beetles’ medicinal properties, the villagers initially had some difficulty in finding sales outlets. For three years, 66-year-old Yeo Un-ha, the head of the research association, visited pet shops and ecology farms throughout the country looking for takers.
Yet his hard work paid off, and since last year the beetles have been selling in droves. One beetle goes for around 700 to 800 won, and the association’s farmers expect to sell 700,000 larvae and adult beetles this year; another 20 farms sold around 2,000 to 3,000 beetles between them last year.
The village has also become a tourist attraction, with more than 2,000 elementary and middle school students and their parents visiting the village last year. The research association received 70 million won for their research efforts from the Rural Development Administration last year and used the money to build a beetle exhibition hall and a storage center.

by Kim Bang-hyeon
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