The Planet

How Zanzibar’s Butterfly Farmers Are Saving the Environment

by Aarian Marshall

January 1, 2016
Via Flickr user Tscherno

Charcoal is big business in Zanzibar, the East African archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. The World Bank estimates that 90 percent of the region’s energy needs are met through the burning of charcoal. But creating that charcoal requires deforestation, and burning it releases large volumes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

So a butterfly center in the region’s Jozani Forest is working against deforestation by training charcoal producers in another trade: butterfly farming.

The Zanzibar Butterfly Center, which opened in 2008, offers instruction and equipment that helps new farmers raise and then sell butterflies to exhibitions in the country and abroad. Farmers can make up to $250 selling butterfly pupae to butterfly centers, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

The Zanzibar Butterfly Center. Image via Facebook

The center itself is home to hundreds of butterflies, and is run through admission fees. It has become a popular tourist attraction.

Though the project has certainly not ended charcoal production in Tanzania, the butterfly center has ended some local deforestation. “The butterfly farmers don't make charcoal anymore, so it has stopped that small sector of the community cutting down trees,” project manager Rosa Santilli told CNN in 2012.

How does one go about farming butterflies? Producers must first capture female butterflies and keep them in mesh cages as they lay eggs. The farmers then then collect the eggs and raise the caterpillars on plants until they turn into pupae.

A staff member at the Zanzibar Butterfly Center works on feeding the butteflies. Image via Facebook

“Butterfly rearing is much easier than charcoal making, which requires a lot of work. I get enough money to support my family,” Rungu Hamisi, who used to make charcoal but now farms through the project, told Reuters.

“I get enough money to feed my children without necessarily destroying forests,” said Mwamvua Ali, another farmer.

(Via Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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How Zanzibar’s Butterfly Farmers Are Saving the Environment