Photo/IllutrationApi Co. official Takeshi Nakano, left, shows a beehive to Takuya Sato, president of Japan Maggot Co., in Kakamigahara, Gifu Prefecture. (Jun Ueda)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A maggot-therapy company that struggled to find enough patients for its financial survival is now saving farmers’ livelihoods through its pollinating flies.

The green bottle fly species can make up for declining populations and shortfalls of honeybees, the dominant insect used to pollinate strawberry, melon and other fruit crops in Japan.

The green bottle flies produced by Okayama-based Japan Maggot Co. (JMC) can also work in tandem with honeybees.

That insect relationship reflects the business partnership that saved JMC.

Takeshi Nakano, 47, deputy chief of the honeybee department of Api Co., which sells bees for pollination purposes, was looking for a way to further bolster agricultural production.

Honeybees apply pollen evenly to pistils during their honey- and pollen-collecting activities.

But the bees are not always ideal workers. For example, they remain in their hives when the weather is too hot or too cold, and they need exposure to sunlight to function properly.

Around 2010, the widespread deaths of bees were reported across the world.

One day in May 2017, Nakano chanced upon a newspaper article that described the pollination abilities of the green bottle fly species.

He contacted JMC and asked the company to “allow us to sell flies for pollination.”

Takuya Sato, 58, president of JMC, approved the request.

Established in 2005, JMC became the first company in Japan to produce maggots, or fly larvae, under germ-free conditions. The critters were produced to remove dead tissue in human patients.

The maggot therapy removes the need for surgery to resect the dead parts.

However, that treatment did not spread among medical centers mainly because it is not covered by the national health insurance program.

JMC was in an unstable financial situation. For this reason, Sato’s company started delivering the flies to farmers in 2011.

Working with JMC, Api distributed promotional leaflets of the Bee Fly product in honeybee packages sent to farmers.

The fly’s pollination reputation gradually spread, leading to more than 500 farmers buying Bee Fly across the country.

COMBINED WITH BEES

On a recent day, Nakano opened a hive that he said contained 2,000 to 3,000 bees.

“Most of worker bees are female,” he said.

Api’s Western honeybees are gathered from across the nation and delivered to farmers throughout Japan.

Nakano said some officials at Api opposed the plan to promote Bee Fly, arguing that it could “threaten bee sales.”

But Nakano noted that the flies are simply for “compensating the weakness of bees.”

The flies cannot be managed in hives and die within two to three weeks. They can, however, work in a wider range of temperatures than bees.

Many farmers, in fact, combine flies and bees to increase crop production, Nakano said.

Taiki Naruse, 23, a strawberry producer in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, said he started using Bee Fly after his bees’ performance suddenly worsened around February this year, resulting in many distorted fruits.

“After introducing the flies on a trial basis, I discovered that distorted strawberries were not being generated,” Naruse said. “I will fully adopt the flies this winter.”

At one farm in Shimane Prefecture, the strawberry harvest expanded sixfold after the introduction of Bee Fly.

JMC’s annual sales have recovered to around 15 million yen ($138,100) from 2 million yen before the introduction of Bee Fly, and two-thirds of the sales are from the agricultural field, according to Sato.

The surge in profits is also contributing to JMC’s medical section.

“My company once reached a point where it may go bankrupt tomorrow, but we are now struggling to deal with an increase in orders,” Sato said. “The popularity of the agricultural product has contributed to stable production of the medical fly.”