Why Butterfly Farming?

We live in a rapidly decaying world. From global warming and depletion of the ozone; deforestation, fouled air and water and species extinction; the absence of coherent political leadership and the decay of whole societies in general, the human species is confronting a slew of hugely complex issues.  In our incessant quest for food, shelter and the raw materials necessary to maintain our modern economies and lifestyles, our short-term interests are supported at the expense of the long-term viability of our planet.   One of the challenges of our day is to discover and develop industries, economies and even living patterns that minimize the effects of our presence on Earth.

In his book, Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher advances many proposals for meeting the challenges we face in today's world.  Among these, he recommends that business enterprises wholly incorporate the use of appropriate technologies.  For Schumacher, an appropriate technology is one that is readily understood by the people who are using it, is environmentally non-destructive, incorporates locally available raw materials, is economically and environmentally sustainable, and is not dehumanizing or degrading to the people who use it.

Butterfly farming fits all of these characteristics of an appropriate technology.  If properly undertaken, butterfly farming is an alternative and progressive endeavor with respect to impact on the immediate surroundings to which we and other living organisms depend. In contrast to traditional farming methods in tropical countries which require the clear cutting of natural habitats, butterfly farming is dependent upon the native vegetation.   In most cases, a butterfly farmer is encouraged to keep areas of land (sometimes quite large) in its intact natural vegetation.  At the very least, a farmer must plant a number of native plants in and around the farm which act as a reliable food source for the larvae. Therefore, butterfly farming has an inherent mutual relationship with native plants and the habitats which they create.

In addition, butterfly farming contributes to other favorable factors. These would include the generation of rural employment, thereby supporting the rural economy and stemming rural to urban migratory patterns. If placed near a forest, such as a national park, the local human population would not only benefit economically from the park's existence, but would have a stake in the park's integrity and survival. Butterflies certainly represent a non-traditional product for export, thereby having a favorable effect on the dependence of many countries on the capricious market for a few staple commodities such as coffee, sugar or bananas. Butterflies generate foreign exchange income for hard currency starved economies. Also in favor of butterfly farming is that it is aesthetically beautiful. Not only is the operation non-obtrusive, but it can contribute intellectual stimulation and aesthetic value to the communities its undertaken. In so far as the final product is concerned, one may argue that a country has few finer representatives abroad than its butterflies.

Aside from a motor cycle and perhaps an electric pump for irrigation, there are virtually no expensive or technologically sophisticated capital requirements. The technological simplicity of butterfly farming, therefore, minimizes the strain on a dollar starved economy to establish a butterfly breeding program. This fact furthermore eliminates the dependence of the butterfly farmer on the availability of scarce imported materials and the technical expertise to maintain sophisticated equipment. Though many people are unfamiliar with the life cycle of a butterfly, the concept can be readily understood with a modicum of explanation. The metamorphosis of a larva into a pupa and hence into an adult butterfly, needs to be demonstrated only once for most people to grasp.

Having described some of the virtues of commercial butterfly farming, it is necessary to stress that butterflies are not a basic foodstuff that enjoy an insatiable market. Although activity such as butterfly farming is generally thought to be ideal for development purposes –and touted as such in the publications of many environmental organizations-it cannot be thought of as a cure-all for butterfly-rich, cash-poor communities. With the exception perhaps of some regions of Africa and Asia, the supply of captive bred butterflies in recent years has come to far exceed the market’s ability to absorb them. Consequently, and inevitably, there is considerable downward pressure on prices.