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‘Worming’ into a Lucrative Project E-mail
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Monday, 12 June 2006
‘Worming’ into a Lucrative Project


New Straits Times

By Brenda Lim

TAPAH: Digging into a pile of compost with his bare hands, 34- year-old Arnold J.S. Loh unearths scores of wriggling earthworms and grins from ear to ear.

"They taste like cockles, earthy and a bit bitter," he said, describing the blanched worms he ate, having heard that earthworm was used to cure fever in Indonesia.

 It will be years before earthworms become food for humans, but Loh's dream is to breed tons of them as a high-protein source of food for all types of livestock, including fish and poultry, and help the country reduce its import of fish meal, which is about RM200 million a year.

The "Protinkin" project, run by Gigantic Acres Sdn Bhd, is to discover a cost-efficient way of cultivating large quantities of earthworms.

Loh, the managing director of the company and an avid angler, said he first started rearing earthworms on his balcony as a hobby about eight years ago to ensure a steady supply of earthworms for his fishing trips.

Breeding them on a large scale was a problem, as each hectare of land required some 5,000 cubic metres of soil, which translated into at least 250 lorry trips at RM300 each, he said.

Loh said a solution could be found for the worms to be bred on 100 per cent plant biomass instead of animal dung, which might be unsafe because of bacteria such as salmonella and streptococcus.

Wild earthworms, which proliferate under chicken coops and at cattle and goat farms, also have a higher content of fat, sand and grit, he noted.

It took a RM50,000-grant from the Finance Ministry's Cradle Investment Programme and three years of research for Loh to work out a "secret formula" to breed earthworms on 100 per cent plant biomass.

Cultivation at a 0.6ha pilot site in Temoh near here began in October and Loh is now looking to start a 60ha farm to breed about 6,000 tons of earthworms a year.

The first earthworm meal, comprising dried and ground worms, will be produced within the next 15 months and sold to feed mills, he said.

Meanwhile, earthworms from the farm, dubbed "Pro-65" for their 65 per cent content of crude protein, are sold as live feed to ornamental fish rearers, especially to feed the carnivorous arowana.

As a side business, Loh also sells the worms as live bait under the "Cacing Gila" brand to anglers for RM4 per pack, containing 50g or about 40-50 worms.

"Incidentally, the compost sold along with the Pro-65 earthworms is very nutritious for plants as it has a high nitrate content," Loh said.

Perak's ex-mining land was ideal for the project, he said, noting that sand prevented the worms from escaping while the non-arable soil meant a low bacteria count.


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