China’s increasing demand for leeches from northern Vietnam has some experts worried about the spread of such hematophagious species.
Demand may lead to “leech farms”
Farmers unaware of the uses for their catch
Leeches, which were once considered a nuisance to farmers, are now sought after in places like Lao Cai, Haiphong, Hai Duong and Hung Yen. The leeches can ultimately be sold for as much as VND10,000 (USD.47) each.
Ms. Tran Thi Thu Phuong, from Hai Duong Province, said that many farmers in Kim Thanh District have been catching them for sale, in hopes of earning some extra money.
Over the past 10 years the number of leeches has been on the decline because of chemical pest control agents, he noted.
Vietnamese merchants travel to these northern provinces to make large purchases, said Ms. Tran Thi Nga, a farmer in Kinh Mon district of Hai Duong. She said that the merchants do not give any reasons for the purchases, but that there are rumours they are being sold to the Chinese.
Advertisements offering to buy leeches can be seen on www.agroviet.com, posted by a merchant named Thuy, from Haiphong.
Thuy said she had received an order from a Chinese trader for 500 kilogrammes once at high prices. To fill the order, Thuy launched a campaign to buy enough leeches at prices of between VND1.3 million and VND1.5 million (USD62.11-USD71.66) per kg.
When asked what these creatures would ultimately be used for, Thuy was dubious, “I heard that they are used for some type of medical reasons, but I don’t know for sure. We just hand over the shipment at the border.”
The demand has led some farmers to even consider raising leeches on their own.
But Prof. Dang Huy Huynh, Chairman of the Vietnam Zoology Association, points out the dangers attached to such an endeavour. He says that raising leeches could threaten the environment, and that, once there, leeches are difficult to eradicate.
Some leeches are used as a traditional remedy for blood clots, according to Tran Van Quang, an herbalist from Traditional Medicine of Vietnam. However he warns about, “possible negative effects for such a treatment. If the leech is not thoroughly burned, afterwards some of the cells could remain and develop into a full leech inside the host’s body.”
For this reason, leeches are rarely used to treat patients, unless there are special circumstances, he added.
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