Earthworm electrocution is destroying the environment for China trade

By Viet An, Xanh Le   August 7, 2023 | 08:51 pm PT
Environmentalists are raising alarms as locals in northern Vietnam have been flocking to hunt earthworms by electrocuting the soil.

For around a month now, farm owners in the northern provinces of Hoa Binh, Son La, Tuyen Quang, Bac Giang have reported an increase in people catching earthworms on their land by shocking the ground with electricity.

The earthworm electrocution weapon consists of two sharp rods connected to a battery. After the iron rods are injected into the ground, worms are forced to writhe out of the ground to escape electrocution.

Such a device could be easily bought online from China.

The device to electrify the soil to catch earthworms. Photo by VnExpress

A device that is used to electrocute the soil to catch earthworms. Photo by VnExpress

After catching the worms, people sell them to facilities where the worms are dried and later sold to traders, who then export them to China via illegal paths.

Van Thinh, a resident in Bac Giang Province, said shocking earthworms has increasingly become a popular "job" in his village and that facilities used to dry the worms can be "easily found anywhere" in the village.

The worms will then be processed, with all of their organs removed and what's left will be dried.

"On average, around 13 kg of live worms would produce 1 kg of dried worms. We sell them to China at the price of VND600,000-700,000 per kilo," a trader who wants to stay unnamed said.

This person admitted to "have no idea what Chinese buyers get the dried worms for."

Hung, owner of a worm-drying facility in Bac Ninh Province, which borders Hanoi, said in his village of 700 families, there are around 600 devices for electrocuting worms.

Hung shared that many villagers even harvest the worms in Hanoi.

"They mostly catch the worms in public flower gardens, normally from 9 p.m. to 4-5 a.m. No one bans them from doing so and no one cares."

In a report published last June, South China Morning Post said in dried form, earthworms are known as "dry-soil dragon" and are used in traditional medicine in China.

China itself is facing "an extinction-level ecological disaster due to a huge rise in the electrocution of earthworms in the soil," said the report.

Earthworms are dried for selling to China. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hai

Earthworms are dried in northern Vietnam for selling to China. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hai

In Vietnam, there are currently no rules preventing people from catching worms by electrocution.

Yet the practice has now raised environmental concerns.

Professor Do Kim Chung, a lecturer at the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, said that transmitting electric current to the ground will affect not only worms but also many microorganisms and leave impacts on the soil environment.

According to many scientific studies, each gram of soil has up to six million microorganisms living in it, and the higher the number of microorganisms, the better the soil would be, he said.

Earthworms, in particular, are known as the "biological plowshares" of farmers as they help loosen the soil and works as an important link in the metabolism of soil nutrients, creating conditions for the production of beneficial organic substances, which helps plants grow well.

"Death of worms and microorganisms will reduce the ability to regenerate soil fertility, make the soil poorer, and eventually plants will be affected, and even die," Chung said.

The authorities should strictly ban the activity and should even consider it "a crime to destroy the environment," he proposed.

Doctor Luong Huu Thanh from the Institute of Biotechnology and Environment said in agro-ecosystem, earthworms are considered an indicator of soil fertility.

The growth process of worms will help the soil increase its porosity, moisture retention, and improve the quality of arable soil.

Where there are many worms, the soil is good, porous and vice versa, Thanh explained.

"The current use of electric stimulation to eradicate earthworms will be like a using a knife to cut off the soil improvement cycle in nature, seriously affecting the ecological environment as well as the quality of agricultural land," he said.

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