As part of a push to conserve the natural environment in the Zanzibar archipelago, a Tanzanian charity has teamed up with farmers to rear butterflies under a scheme striving to give residents a financial stake to protect forests.
The Zanzibar Butterfly Center, which consists of a meshed tropical garden, is home to hundreds of species bred by locals.
Although the semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, the majority of residents live in poverty.
Residents routinely cut down trees to make charcoal to meet their growing energy needs, so increasing the carbon footprint while destroying fragile ecosystems.
But the community-based initiative is working to reverse the situation by luring former charcoal producers to rear butterflies and earn incomes to support their families.
Alfred George, the center’s assistant manager, said that through the project, many farmers have been lifted from poverty and have realized the importance of protecting the environment.
“When we introduced the idea of rearing butterflies, most farmers were doubtful, but they now earn good incomes and their families are better off,” George told Anadolu Agency.
Although the initiative is not a panacea to Zanzibar’s widespread deforestation, residents said the scheme has helped to raise awareness and a sense of ownership of the forest among locals.
“Many people have stopped cutting down trees to produce charcoal, they are more concerned about forest protection,” said George.
While many farming activities need the clearing of forests, which can trigger climate change and the loss of species, officials said butterfly farming requires unharmed forests which provides an economic incentive for conservation.
Nestled on the outskirts of Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, the Zanzibar Butterfly Center contains an enclosed tropical garden with hatching booths where tourists visit to catch a glimpse of the dazzling creatures.
With its fragile wings banded with dazzling blue patches, homerus is one of the most spectacular butterflies to view.
But its beauty and rarity have brought the insect to the verge of extinction as local Zanzibaris prowl its last refuge near the Jozani forest.
However, through ongoing conservation efforts, the endangered species is now protected.
Launched in 2008, the center is one of Africa’s largest butterfly exhibits, housing more than 50 species of native butterflies, including the flying handkerchief, a black and white African swallowtail.
The project has created opportunities for women who supplement their incomes.
The butterfly rearing process starts with farmers catching female butterflies and transferring them to an enclosure where they can lay eggs on host plants.
Farmers then collect eggs and when they hatch, caterpillars that emerge are placed on new plants, which must be regularly replaced to satisfy their voracious appetites.
The caterpillars continue to feed until they pupate and are ready to be transported.
It is during this stage that farmers start reaping the fruits of their labor by selling the pupae to the center that sells them for export or keep them until they hatch, to display for tourists.
The mostly women farmers earn about 65% of $1-$2.50 for each pupa, while the rest meet running costs of the organization, said George.
He also noted that the amount each farmer earns varies depending on how many pupae they sell to the center and of what species.
“The payment very much depends on individual efforts. Some farmers earn 600,000 Tanzanian shillings ($260),” he said.
As the midday sun blaze in Zanzibar, a group of wide-eyed tourists huddled at the center gaze in amazement at dozens of butterflies clinging in tightly packed masses to every branch and trunk of the tall eucalyptus tree.
The butterflies swirl through the air and carpet the sprawling tropical garden in their flaming myriad.
“I am happy to be here, butterflies bring me closer to nature,” said Laurie Petterson, a tourist from England.
The Jozani forest, perched on mangrove-filled bays of Chwaka and Uzi on Unguja Island, is a vast natural forest containing a wide array of endangered species, such as Red colobus monkeys.
Despite the financial benefit, butterfly farmers who spoke to the Anadolu Agency are more concerned about environmental conservation than the income they receive.
“For me, money is nothing. We need to protect trees, it is our life,” said Mariam Maulid Ali, a farmer in Zanzibar./aa