Cockroach farming is a booming business in China

In recent years, people around the world have spent nearly $40 billion annually on pesticides. And there may be no other insect that bothers the average person more than the cockroach.

But a few Chinese farmers have taken a radically different approach: cultivating millions of cockroaches as part of a profitable business venture. As the Los Angeles Times reports, there are about 100 farms in China, raising more than 10 million cockroaches.

Because the unusual industry is largely unregulated, most cockroach farmers operate somewhat under the radar. They say the Chinese government is aware of their existence and is allowing them to operate freely as long as they don’t become high profile. In other words, they don’t want millions of cockroaches to suddenly flee from local farm, as actually happened in what spectators called “The Great Escape” in August.

Why would someone want to farm cockroaches, an insect that is considered an insufferable pest in most corners of the world?

As it turns out, there’s much more demand for the little critters than some would like to admit. For example, cosmetic companies reportedly use them as a source of protein and for a “cellulose-like substance” on their wings, according to the Times.

And in May, the United Nations itself encouraged more people to consume insects for food, saying they are an inexpensive source of protein and could be a viable solution to world hunger.

Cockroaches have also been used for ages in Chinese medicine.

In fact, medical researchers in China are conducting tests on cockroaches, saying they could be used in treatments ranging from cancer to AIDS and even for hair loss.

Cockroach farmer Wang Fuming, 43, says of the bugs there is "nothing to be afraid of." Farmers like Wang tend to cultivate the American cockroach, which the Times says can fetch up to $20 per pound.

"I thought about raising pigs, but with traditional farming, the profit margins are very low," Wang said. "With cockroaches, you can invest 20 yuan ($3.25) and get back 150 yuan ($11)."

Raising cockroaches is also a relatively inexpensive venture. Wang says his overhead consists of a converted chicken coop, empty egg cartons for the roaches to hide out and a steady diet of potato and pumpkin peelings thrown out by nearby restaurants.

"People laughed at me when I started, but I always thought that cockroaches would bring me wealth," Zou Hui, 40, told the Times about her career shift into cockroach farming.

And while Zou is not taking in millions, she is making a steady income from her efforts. In fact, she’s been so successful that her local province gave her an award as an “Expert in Getting Wealthy.”

"Now I'm teaching four other families," Zou said. "They want to get rich like me."