Kipepeo butterfly market provides income while protecting the fragile coastal forest

A butterfly lands on a lantana flower at the Wenquan Park in Fuzhou, capital of southeast China's Fujian Province, Sept. 2, 2018. (Xinhua/Mei Yongcun)


Tucked inside the Arabuko Sokoke forest along Kenya’s coast lies the Kipepeo Butterfly Market. The market is a community-based project that employs hundreds of people and generates income for the region from breeding and exporting the forest’s butterflies and pupae abroad.

A butterfly lands on a lantana flower at the Wenquan Park in Fuzhou, capital of southeast China’s Fujian Province, Sept. 2, 2018. /Xinhua

The project has more than 1000 farmers. 86 percent of them are women who have for years bred and marketed their insects here.

Mrs. Maka Juma is one such farmer. She was initially a tailor, but she says, sewing clothes is highly dependent on seasons and the number of people wanting new dresses. This saw her switch her trade to the rearing of butterflies back in 2004.

Mrs. Maka Juma, butterfly farmer

“I have water, cages, trees, and a net, all these are the necessary tools required for one to be a butterfly breeder and seller,” she says.

Mrs. Juma earns close to $100-200 a week. Most of her customers are from Europe and the United States.

Project Manager and researcher, Hussein Abdullahi Aden is tasked with teaching farmers like Mrs. Juma the science of breeding butterflies that not only help protect the natural ecosystem of the forest but also fetch top prices on the market.

A wide variety of butterflies is an indicator that the Arabuko Sokoke forest is healthy. To ensure the forest’s survival, farmers have established tree nurseries and planted trees on their farms to help breed butterfly pupae. This helps protect the forest while also preventing the project from overharvesting butterflies.

“We have also identified almost over 263 different species of butterflies that have been documented,” says Aden. “Out of these, we have almost over 82 which are of commercial value, that the ability to be exported to the international market.”

Every Thursday, farmers congregate at Kipepeo to sort pupae by quality and species before packing the cargo for their customers.

Butterfly Pupae at Kipepeo Market in Malindi, Kenya.

Mr. Aden says the market for butterflies is quite competitive.

“So the market is open and liberal. There is competition. We have our competitors, from the Philippines, South America, we have Ecuador, we have Costa Rica, we have Peru and also locally around in Africa, we have Tanzania, we have also South Africa, which is competing for the same market with the same product.”

Industrious and determined farmers can reap good benefits from their products especially during the high season which runs from March to September.  Most of the countries that receive Kipepeo’s pupae lack the weather conditions conducive to breeding butterflies.

Kipepeo currently markets butterfly and moth pupae and other live insects as well as honey and silk cloth produced by the community. The live insects hatched from pupae are exported and displayed in insect parks globally.

As the market place for nature-based products from the Arabuko Sokoke forest, Kipepeo coordinates production, sales and ensures through training and monitoring that the insects are bred and raised on-farm in a sustainable manner from the wild parent stock.

The main challenge that this venture is faced with is that the lifetime of a butterfly is just six days. During the export, these insects go through comprehensive screening for security reasons. At times the screening at the point of entry takes days according to Mr. Aden.

But for farmers like Mrs. Juma, the hard work is worth it.

“The butterfly project has helped me, I have built a permanent house and educated my children from the proceeds. I am also independent because I earn an income.”

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