São Tomé and Príncipe: butterfly farming boosts biodiversity and incomes in São Tomé

Conservationists on São Tomé, a tropical island home to a rich diversity of plants, birds and butterflies, have started a project to help local farmers raise butterflies to boost their income and encourage the protection of island forests.

Under a pilot project, three farmers on the island, located about 200 kilometers off the coast of West Africa, will produce nearly 10,000 pupae a year to sell to collectors in Europe, said Julie Courret, Project Manager for BirdLife International in the Democratic Republic of São. Tomé and Príncipe.

São Tomé alone is home to at least 116 species of butterflies. Some, like the rare Charaxes montieri, are found nowhere else on earth.

Twenty-two species of butterflies, including seven endemic species, have been selected for possible breeding. Their chrysalises will be exported to foreign collectors, who organize exhibitions of living insects in special enclosures.

Initially, France will be the biggest market, Courret said.

Sustainable practice

Farmers in Sao Tome-e will release some of their captive-bred butterflies back into the wild to ensure the practice is sustainable.

“That’s what’s going to be important for us. We’re going to produce and broadcast even more than we collect to make sure we don’t have a negative impact on the population,” Courret said.

The forests of São Tomé and Príncipe are a biodiversity hotspot.

In a striking example of this, scientists this month announced a new species of owl – the Príncipe scops owl – which lives in a small patch of the evergreen forests of southern Príncipe.

More farmers on Sao Tome – the larger of the two islands – are expected to diversify to include butterfly farming as an additional source of income.

“I decided to start producing butterflies because it’s financially sustainable and it will have a positive impact on biodiversity and its conservation,” said António Alberto Camuenha, a farmer near Santa Roza, in the center of the island.

The area is characterized by a mixture of secondary forest interspersed with agroforestry production.

Increase local income

Currently Camuenha produces vanilla, ginger, turmeric, cocoa and coffee.

“More farmers could join us and follow our example after seeing the results,” he told RFI.

An added bonus is that 90% of the coffee and cocoa grown in Sao Tome is organic, Courret said, which means no pesticides are used that could harm the butterflies.

Projections by one of BirdLife’s NGO partners showed that individual farmers could initially earn around €1,800 per year, with the potential to earn up to €4,000 per year.

That’s far more than can be gained from environmentally harmful practices like illegal logging and charcoal burning, Courret explained.

The island nation is the latest African country to promote butterfly farming. In Kenya, butterflies have been bred since the 1990s in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest near the coast.

Internationally, Costa Rica and the Philippines are currently the international leaders in butterfly exports.

The São Tomé Butterfly Project is part of BirdLife’s Forest Landscape Sustainability Accelerator program, which aims to help conservation partners around the world conserve forests while generating income for local communities.

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