Footage has been shared online of men in Guangdong province, southern China, using electric currents to drive earthworms out of the soil for rapid collection.
The taste of earthworms is described as pork-belly-like, making them a very popular dish in China. Not only the food industry sees their value, but they’re also used in cosmetic products and medicine. Their versatile use made earthworm collection a very lucrative job. Collectors can get an average price of around US$2 per kilo.
Not only are earthworm populations severely endangered by the practice, but the use of electric currents is killing other bugs and insects too.
This harvesting method is endangering both earthworm populations and soil health. Earthworms play an essential role in maintaining soil quality. They loosen the soil, boost air circulation, and their faeces increase organic materials. By doing so they are crucial contributors to healthy and arable soil. Without them, the result is hard soil, with a bare minimum of nutrition which is not arable anymore.
A possible remedy could be an idea Chinese cities came up within 2017: earthworm farms, where food waste is fed to the worms, and worm dung is used to create organic compost. This also presents a solution for food waste in China's rapidly growing cities.