Kenya: Harnessing butterflies to save the forest (DW)

| February 26, 2018

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In Kenya’s Arabuko Forest, it’s easy to see why farmers call the butterflies “flying gold.” They gave the insects that name out of admiration for their beautiful, jewel-like colours.

But the name fits in another way, too. Through a community-based conservation project called Kipepeo, farmers earn a living from the forest by rearing and exporting butterfly and moth pupae for exhibits in Europe and America.

Arabuko is the biggest indigenous forest on the East African coast, located 100 kilometres north of Mombasa. Almost one-third of Kenya’s butterfly species live there. And, despite pressures from illegal logging, the park’s wildlife is thriving.

Farmer Katana Charo says: “The fact that we have a vast array of butterfly markets has given us farmers opportunities to make big profits…. It has also helped [us] in enrolling and recruiting many farmers who used to destroy the forest by logging.”

In the past, residents earned up to US$150 per week from illegal logging. But, because it was illegal, the income was not guaranteed. Now, many residents are cultivating butterflies to help conserve the area’s vast coastal forests.

Farmers learned which types of butterflies can be sold, and where they tend to lay their eggs. They also learned how to rear the insects without harming butterfly populations.

Bernard Iha is another farmer who sells butterfly pupae. He explains, “We enter the forest to search [for] butterflies and bring them home. We collect their eggs and let them grow until they reach the pupa stage.”

Farmers and butterfly conservationists have identified more than 260 species in the forest, of which 70 have commercial potential. The farmers carry their butterfly pupae to the Kipepeo Butterfly House in Kilifi County for export, a distance of at least 20 kilometres.

Hussein Aden is the project manager for Kipepeo. He says that the butterflies are exported to be used in exhibitions.

Mr. Aden says the project’s objective is to improve community livelihoods. He adds that Kenyans living near the Arabuko Forest understand the importance of conserving it. Some have switched from illegal logging to rearing butterflies, building breeding cages within their homesteads.

The farmers earn around US$200 per week. They say it’s enough to cover their needs and pay their children’s school fees.

According to Mr. Aden, locals had been chopping down the forest, which threatened many species, including butterflies and birds. But today, they’re making a living from the butterflies.

This story was adapted from an article titled, “Kenya: Harnessing butterflies to save the forest” published by Deutsche Welle. To read the original article, please see: