3. Kenya: Butterfly farming takes wing (The Nation)

| April 7, 2008

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Clavion Mwachola says that most people think he’s weird. They wonder about his unusual hobby – a hobby that he turned into a business. Mr. Mwachola is a butterfly farmer. As such, he spends much of his time tending to captured butterflies and caterpillars. It’s a delicate operation, but one that yields good profits. Butterfly farming earns Mr. Mwachola up to 10,000 Kenyan shillings (about 160 American dollars, or 100 Euros) a week. And in time, there may be few people in his district who think his business is strange. That’s because some 900 farmers in the Taita-Taveta District of Kenya’s Coast Province are preparing to take up butterfly nets and enter the niche market.

There has long been a limited market for silk-producing butterflies. But butterflies are now increasingly valued for their beauty and unique characteristics. Over the past two decades, demand for captured butterflies has grown as more and more live butterfly exhibits crop up around the world. Farmers in tropical countries are taking advantage of this trend by selling the butterfly species unique to their area.

In the Malida District of the Coast Province, more than two dozen butterfly farming groups have formed. They are part of the Kipepeo Project, which sells to butterfly exhibitors and silk producers worldwide. Butterflies farmed in Taita-Taveta District will also be linked to international buyers through the Kipepeo Project.

Conservation groups also have a growing interest in butterfly farming. James Mwang’ombe is Project Coordinator for the Taita-Taveta Wildlife Forum. He says there are nine butterfly species in the Taita forests that are not found anywhere else in the world. Exhibitors value such rare specimens. And butterfly farming may help to preserve them in the wild. Butterflies are threatened by forest destruction. But locals who take up butterfly farming gain a new incentive to preserve the forests. The training of butterfly farmers in Taita-Taveta is part of a larger effort to preserve the district’s forests.

Since forests provide a natural habitat where butterflies feed and reproduce, butterfly farming can be much less expensive than other types of agriculture. But the process is still painstaking.

It starts with farmers collecting live butterflies in special nets. Captured butterflies are fed sweetened juice until they lay eggs; then they are released back into the wild. The eggs hatch into caterpillars which feed on leaves until they create protective cocoons for themselves. At this pupa stage, they are packaged for export.

Mr. Mwachola enjoys every stage of the process, fascinated with the growth and development of the winged creatures. His dedication to butterflies has paid off so well that he now employs six youth and leads a larger nature group. He assures others that, with patience and hard work, a good living can be had in butterfly farming.