(Hello Africa) Kenya’s coastal biodiversity hotspot providing alternative livelihood to local farmers-Xinhua

An adult butterfly hangs on an indigenous tree at a demonstration farm at the entrance of Arabuko Sokoke forest, in Kilifi county, northern Kenyan coast. (Xinhua/Naftali Mwaura)

Kipepeo (Swahili for butterfly) farming project, which started in 1993 with funding from the government of Kenya and overseas donors, has revolutionized the conservation of the 420-km square indigenous forest through the provision of alternative sources of revenue to nearby farmers and dissuaded them from encroaching on it.

NAIROBI, April 5 (Xinhua) — While growing up in a village adjacent to Arabuko Sokoke forest, a biodiversity hotspot in the Kenyan coastal county of Kilifi, Jonathan Charo used to marvel at its imposing green canopy and splendor.

The 45-year-old father of five learned at an early age that the largest indigenous coastal forest in East Africa had a special place in the history, culture and heritage of his community and preserving it for future generations was like a calling.

Charo is among more than 1,000 smallholder farmers embedded in Arabuko Sokoke’s butterfly rearing project that seeks to provide them with alternative livelihood and enhance their contribution in protecting the unique ecosystem.

Started in 1993 with funding from the government and overseas donors, the Kipepeo (Swahili for butterfly) farming project has revolutionized the conservation of the 420-kilometer square indigenous forest through the provision of alternative sources of revenue to nearby farmers and dissuaded them from encroaching on it.

An adult butterfly hangs on an indigenous tree at a demonstration farm at the entrance of Arabuko Sokoke forest, in Kilifi county, northern Kenyan coast. (Xinhua/Naftali Mwaura)

According to Charo, since he started butterfly farming more than two decades ago and accrued financial rewards, he felt motivated to protect a biodiversity hotspot that is home to 20 percent of Kenya’s bird species, 30 percent of butterfly species and about 24 rare and endemic birds and mammal species.

“What attracted me to butterfly farming was the realization it was intended to uplift our living standards while pulling us away from practices that could harm Arabuko Sosoke forest,” Charo told Xinhua, adding that he has been able to earn a reasonable monthly income besides acquiring skills and exposure to the wider world.

His day job involves venturing into the innermost sections of Arabuko Sokoke forest where he traps male and female butterflies and confines them to a cage in his homestead to allow for the hatching of eggs. Charo and his peers sell pupae that develop from the eggs to a collection center domiciled within Arabuko Sokoke forest in readiness for export to overseas markets where they are used for research and ornamental purposes upon becoming adult butterflies.

On a good month according to Charo, he earns 30,000 shillings (261 US dollars) from selling pupae, despite minimal overheads, hence enabling him to meet the basic needs of his immediate household.

“This has motivated me to sacrifice my time and energy towards conservation of Arabuko-Sokoke forest since it is very crucial to my livelihood if left intact,” he added.

An adult butterfly hangs on an indigenous tree at a demonstration farm at the entrance of Arabuko Sokoke forest, in Kilifi county, northern Kenyan coast. (Xinhua/Naftali Mwaura)

Charo Kenga, a 28-year-old butterfly farmer, said that the insects besides providing him with an alternative livelihood as opposed to felling trees to earn the daily bread, have also taught him the need to value natural habitats in his backyard.

“At least I cannot involve myself in cutting down trees at the Arabuko Sokoke forest, being aware they sustain a butterfly’s life cycle,” said Kenga.

“I have been telling my friends to protect this forest and avoid disrupting the breeding of butterflies that are currently an important source of income to many farmers,” he added.

Msanzu Karisa, a middle-aged former cobbler who has engaged in butterfly farming for the last sixteen years, hailed their positive contribution to the livelihoods of his peers in the semi-arid sections of Kilifi county. He said that butterfly farming continues to resonate with small-holder farmers whose income had previously declined amid low crop yield and lack of ready market for their produce.

He disclosed that he was able to break even six months after venturing into butterfly farming, and has since been able to cater for household bills including rent, food and school fees with ease.

Karisa added that despite market volatility occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, butterfly farming as an enterprise was on a recovery trajectory, as demand for the insects in new export destinations grew.

Chemuku Wekesa, the assistant director for the Coast region at Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) noted that novel ways of conserving Arabuko Sokoke and other pristine coastal ecosystems have benefitted local communities.

Wekesa said that assisting communities to engage in beekeeping and butterfly farming has motivated them to protect the expansive indigenous forest, home to iconic land mammals like elephants and African buffalo.

He added that climate change, wildfires, sporadic incidents of illegal logging and rampant poverty among adjacent communities were some of the threats facing the Arabuko Sokoke forest block.

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