The Amani Butterfly Project
The Amani Butterfly Project is a non-profit organization that helps 400 rural Tanzanians from 6 villages in the East Usambara Mountains farm and market native butterflies. The mission of the project is to reduce poverty and create incentive for forest conservation.
The butterfly farmers are represented in the project by an elected board of 12 volunteer butterfly farmers who set the project's prices, policies, and control the dispersal of the project's village development fund (10% of butterfly farmer earnings). The fund is used for projects that benefit the whole community, like building schools.
The farmers, more than 50% of whom are women, also control membership in the project. New members are only allowed to join if there is a need for more production. For example, the farmers recently agreed to expand the project by 100 farmers on the condition that the new farmers only produce species which were not already produced in sufficient supply. Participating butterfly farmers receive about 70% of the project's sales and the other 30% covers the project's staff salaries and operating costs. As sales increase, farmers will receive an even larger percentage. The Amani Butterfly Project is a project of the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG). TFCG provides technical assistance regarding butterfly farming, marketing, export, financial management, and conservation efforts. To learn more about TFCG and its other projects, follow the link for support at the left of the page.
What is the Market for Butterflies?
Twice a week, representatives from the Amani Butterfly Project collect butterfly pupae from member farmers. At the end of the day, staff members sort and pack the collected pupae neatly into cardboard boxes lined with styrofoam and cotton.The following day, the pupae begin a 3 to 4 day journey with DHL to a live butterfly exhibit in Europe or the US. After arriving at a butterfly house, the butterfly pupae are hung for a short period of time before they emerge. Once they emerge, the butterflies are released into a large enclosed garden aviary where visitors come to learn about and enjoy butterflies. Due to the short life span of most tropical butterflies, exhibits typically order new pupae every two to three weeks. The Amani Butterfly Project also sells some preserved butterflies to dealers and collectors.
How Much are Butterflies Worth?
Farmers receive about 70% of the final sale price. In a community where households typically earn less than $400 a year in cash income, this is very good money. The chart to the right shows the project's growing sales for each year. Although butterfly farming is a side activity for most of the households participating in the project, the average household has seen a 25% increase in income since starting to farm butterflies. The main limit on expanding sales further is the relatively small size of the live butterfly exhibit market. To help increase the market for farmed butterflies, the project is now exploring the possibility of creating butterfly souvenirs for tourist markets in Tanzania and gift shops of live butterfly exhibits in Europe and the US.A single female butterfly can lay between 250 and 500 eggs in her lifetime, so very few female butterflies are required to start captive populations. After starting a population, there is really only need to return to the wild occasionally to catch wild males to insure the captive population has good genetic diversity. Thus, the reproductive capacity of butterflies insures that the very limited extraction of wild butterflies by the farmers will have no effect on the health of the wild population. The following generation will quickly fill any space left in the previous generation. The primary cause of butterfly extinction is habitat destruction, and by providing an economic incentive to conserve butterfly habitat, the Amani Butterfly project is helping to conserve butterflies along with all the other amazing animal species found in the East Usambara Mountains.
What is at Stake?
The East Usambara Mountains are part of a chain of maintains known as the Eastern Arc. This area is a world renown biodiversity hotspot. The forests atop these mountains have been isolated from other wet forests for millions of years and in that time a wide range of unique primates, birds, chameleons, frogs, and insects species have evolved. At the same time, the slopes of these mountains receive high amounts of rainfall and are attractive places to farm. As the human population in these mountains has grown, the forests have been cleared to make way for tea estates and small farms. Unfortunately, the local farming practices are often unsustainable and people are constantly clearing forests to access more land. The forests are also under pressure as a source of building supplies, charcoal, and firewood. This is what makes the East Usambaras a 'hotspot'. While there is a tremendous number of unique animal and plant species, they are also under threat of extinction. To help protect the last remaining forests in these mountains, the government of Tanzania has set aside many forest reserves. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in increased poverty in communities that depend on these forests for logging income and expanding farms. At the same time, the government does not have sufficient resources and depends on local communities to help protect the forests. To help reduce the burden of conservation, the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group has started project's like the Amani Butterfly Project in order to reduce poverty and turn conservation into a benefit rather than a liability.
The Conservation Link
In the farming section, butterfly farmers in Amani rely on natural forests near their communities as a source of host plants for their butterfly farms. They also rely on the forest as a source of genetic diversity. The farmers often create captive populations with the eggs of only 1 or 2 female butterflies. The farmers know that, just like keeping chickens, it is important to avoid inbreeding in butterflies and therefore, they sometimes trade male butterflies or capture more from the wild. Butterfly farmers in other parts of the world are not as reliant upon natural forests. In part, this is because the live butterfly trade requires quick access to international courier services and airports. Therefore, it is difficult to produce butterfly pupae for export in remote locations where natural forests are found. In order to farm without access to the forest, butterfly farmers need to invest lots of money to recreate some of the conditions such as humidity and shade found in natural forests.
Additionally, they tend to breed butterfly species that use host plants that are easy to propagate in nurseries, such as vines or herbs that produce seeds within 1 or 2 years. They also build bigger, more expensive, flight enclosures which allow them to maintain larger captive populations that are less susceptible to inbreeding. However, even many city based farmers still rely on natural forests from time to time and regardless of where it is done, butterfly farming provides a livelihood that is more environmentally friendly than many alternatives. Having access to natural forest reduces the capital costs of farming butterflies and allows farmers in the Amani Butterfly Project to compete with wealthier farmers in other parts of the world. This access creates a real link between livelihoods and conservation, since many of the forests accessed by butterfly farmers in Amani are inside protected areas. A 2006 study suggests that this link has had a positive effect on butterfly farmer's behaviors and attitudes towards forest conservation.