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Communities See Brighter Future on Wings of a Butterfly

In Focus, May 4, 2007

By Sarah Smith

The Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests of Tanzania and Kenya are home to more than 330 globally threatened species. These species are in constant threat of losing their natural habitats as a result of human activities.

But what happens when these destructive activities are a matter of survival? This is the case for many communities within the region where poverty is the root cause of much of the forest degradation.

Rapidly increasing human populations have intensified the pressures for land for subsistence farming and other agricultural uses, resulting in forest degradation to accommodate the needs.

Communities living near forests, such as those near the Usambara-Tanga area, Taita Hills, and the Lower Tana River, have few choices but to undertake destructive practices in the region.

The coastal forests also contain a number of valuable timber species, which have been logged on these mountains and coastal forests for over a century. Almost all of this logging is illegal and has proven difficult to control.

A Partnership for the People

Support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) enabled the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), to provide assistance to forest-dependant communities through sustainable Income Generating Activities (IGAs), such as butterfly farming, bee-keeping, and the cultivation of medicinal plants.

Collaborating partners, such as BirdLife International and the WWF- Eastern Africa Regional Programme Office, have joined together to recognize the important roles that these essential natural resources play in fostering sustainable development for communities.

“Successful nature-based enterprises can benefit local communities in ways they have never imagined,” said Ian Gordon, the head of ICIPE’s environmental health division, who also leads the CEPF implementation team in the region.

“For example, the profit from one butterfly pupae will purchase one bag of maize meal, which can feed a whole family for one day. This alone is a remarkable accomplishment in poverty alleviation,” Gordon said.

These projects are supported by CEPF under its strategic direction in the region of increasing the ability of local populations to benefit from and contribute to biodiversity conservation.

Forest conservation IGAs can be clustered into three categories: activities or projects dependent on continued existence of the forest; activities that may or may not depend on the forest; and completely independent activities.

The first category includes ecotourism, bee-keeping, and butterfly farming, while adding conservation value to poverty alleviation through increasing both local and political support. The second type of IGA involves projects such as cultivation of medicinal plants and agroforestry, and the third includes activities such as establishing relationships with local communities and a myriad of sustainable livelihood options.

The IGAs within these projects utilize biodiversity that is already present in the forests, such as honey bees, wild silk moths, butterflies, and indigenous medicinal plants.

Targeting Outcomes for Long-term Benefits

The Commercial Insects Programme of ICIPE has supported and trained more than 170 beekeepers as well as silk moth breeders around two of the larger Taita Hills reserves. In the Kenyan community of Mwingi, the enterprise of beekeeping has more than doubled the prices previously paid to farmers and has boosted their production from three tons of honey to 20 tons.

In this project, community members are also responsible for quality control, packaging, marketing, and research, all skills which are built through training from conservation partners supported by donors such as CEPF.

These sustainable practices have improved the quality of honey produced which in turn has widened the market for distribution.

Instead of raising the Chinese-originated domesticated silk moth (Bombyx mori), local community groups are now harvesting indigenous African moth species, such as the comet’s tail moth (Argema mittrie). This provides a direct link between conserving the forests and sustaining livelihoods.

ICIPE is working with communities to improve silk harvesting methods to meet market standards and tastes.

Community members are also teaching traditional methods and uses of medicinal plants. At Kakamega Forest, community members are developing commercialized aromatic/medicinal plant products, such as Naturub and Mondia tonic on sale in local markets in Kenya.

This shared knowledge between conservationists and community groups not only meets ICIPE’s strategy of value at the community level, it also increases the chances of long-term interest in sustainable practices throughout the region.

ICIPE has also supported sustainable butterfly farming projects in the Taita Hills such as the Kipepeo Project at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and the Amani Butterfly Farm in the East Usambaras supported by the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group.

Community groups were trained in rearing the two endemic species of butterfly (Cymothoe teita and Papilio desmondi teita) to showcase the region's biodiversity of species.

ICIPE has also trained groups in larval food plant research, and has also learned the provisions of designing flight cages, breeding cages, sleeves, and butterfly nets.

Marketing of the butterfly pupae and of farmed adult dead stock to insect collectors has also proven to be very flourishing.

In the last 10 years, Kipepo has generated more than $600,000 in revenues from butterfly pupae exports and has leveraged an additional $700,000 in co-financing. This co-financing includes $500,000 for a new butterfly exhibit in Mombasa as an ecotourist attraction that will market education and advocacy throughout the region and also create important job opportunities for local community groups.

Triple Win

Sustainable IGAs have proven to be an effective tool for conservation in the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests of Tanzania and Kenya region.

These activities have a minimal demand on materials, hold no land demand, and have proven to provide adequate education and training for long-lasting results in conservation management.

“These projects are a triple win,” said Gordon. “They are helping to alleviate poverty, increase support for biodiversity conservation, and are publicizing key conservation messages to areas that need it most.”

For more information, contact: , principal scientist, Environmental Health Division, ICIPE.

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© CI, John Watkin
With help from ICIPE, the Amani Butterfly Project raises various species of butterfly, such as Charaxes pollux mirabilis, for export.

© CI, John Watkin
The Wundanyi tree nursery provides a source of indigenous trees for reforestation activities.

© CI, John Watkin
A staff member of the Amani Butterfly Project displays a selection of pupae that are ready for export to international butterfly houses.

To find out more about CEPF’s work in this region, visit the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests of Tanzania and Kenya section of our site.

Visit the News & Feature Archive for this region.

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Photo credits for banner images: (Frog) © CI, Haroldo Castro; (Chameleon) © CI, Russell A. Mittermeier