Butterfly farmers at work in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest (AP)

Butterfly farmers at work in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest (AP)

A butterfly emerges from its chrysalis at the Kipepeo Butterfly Project farm in Kenya. (AP)

A butterfly emerges from its chrysalis at the Kipepeo Butterfly Project farm in Kenya. (AP)

This butterfly catcher can make between $20 and $50 a week. (AP)

This butterfly catcher can make between $20 and $50 a week. (AP)

The Arabuko-Sokoke forest is home to many animals and plants that live only in that area. (AP)

The Arabuko-Sokoke forest is home to many animals and plants that live only in that area. (AP)

Spreading Butterflies

Posted: May 1, 2020

A rare butterfly flits from stem to stem in a Kenyan forest. Then, Swish! A butterfly farmer catches it in a net.

The Arabuko-Sokoke forest lies near the coast of Kenya in Africa. Around 230 species of butterfly make their homes there. Many women living near the forest cannot read. For a long time, they couldn’t get good jobs. They made some money cutting down trees for firewood—the same trees the butterflies live in. But now the women can protect themselves from poverty and save trees. They can become butterfly farmers. 

The women catch, raise, and sell the unique insects. The high-quality butterfly and moth pupae (chrysalises and cocoons) go to Europe, America, and many other parts of the world. Some buyers use the butterflies for scientific research. Others add them to their butterfly houses. Some resell the pupae to other buyers.

The butterfly farmers make sure the insects aren’t all harvested at once. They leave enough behind so the population can keep growing. Each farmer catches butterflies in a net. She cares for the butterflies until they lay eggs that hatch into caterpillars. Then she feeds the caterpillars leaves from the forest until they form chrysalises. Each pupa brings in one or two dollars.

Sofia Saidi is a butterfly farmer at the Kipepeo Butterfly Project. (Kipepeo is Swahili for butterfly.) “We usually venture into the forest in groups to capture the butterflies,” she says. “We then go back to our homes and rear the pupae individually.” She says a butterfly catcher can make between $20 to $50 a week. The money helps women send their children to school. 

Butterfly farming brings another benefit too. Each butterfly species relies on particular trees. Healthy forests mean healthy butterflies. And for farmers, that means money. So farmers now want to protect forests, not cut them down.