A positive aspect of tropical butterfly farms stems from their interaction with the country and people where they are built. Areas of tropical land that might otherwise be deforested can be protected whilst the land produces value through breeding and trade of tropical butterflies. In many cases the local population is quite poor, so the farms also provide employment and income; how this occurs, differs in detail depending on the country. Click on the country of interest for further detail.
Situated some 30 kilometres northeast of Chaingmai in northern Thailand, on the edge of the forest/jungle, we have a 15 acre farm that concentrates on breeding local “commom” species of butterflies and moths, such as Papilio polytes, Papilio memnon and the atlas moth. We do not breed, or attempt to breed any rare or endangered species.
The farm has been established over 20 years, and currently employs 17 people on a full-time basis, thereby supporting some 15 families. It is fully licensed by the Thai Royal Forestry Department to produce a range of some 40 species of butterflies and moths and is regularly inspected by the authorities.
We only very rarely take butterflies from the wild to stock our farm and inject fresh genetic material; the vast majority of our production comes from lines of livestock that have been captive bred for very many years (captive breeding is a requirement of most exporting countries so that natural stocks are not depleted).
The breeding programme: The “parent” butterflies are kept in very large netting enclosures, where there are provided with the right environment for that particular species. Some butterflies prefer light sunny cages while others prefer much more shaded jungle-like environments. We provide plenty of flowering plants to produce the nectar of which the adult butterflies live and also the species specific host plant for the female butterfly to lay her eggs on.
Twice a day, the newly laid butterfly eggs are collected and stored in special plastic containers. After about five days the baby caterpillars emerge from the eggs and start to feed on the host plant leaves. At this point we transfer the baby caterpillars to special cages in the nursery area, where they are given a fresh leaves every day.
After approximately 21 days the then adult caterpillars crawl to a corner of the cage and shed their final skin to become a chrysalis – ready to merge into and adult butterfly in approximately three weeks time.
Here there are several very small farms, in comparison to Chiangmai, scattered in different parts of the Philippines exclusively in very rural areas or small villages. The largest one is situated in the island of Bohol with breeding facilities scattered among family members’ land.
Foodplants are cultivated in nearby available lands and are collected as and when needed; sometimes as often as everyday in the busiest time of the year. On this island there are also several other breeders who have small rearing cages and nurseries in their back garden. Most of these breeders have a very low income from other sources and therefore rely on butterfly farming to maintain a reasonable income for their family.
Other small farms that exclusively supply us with pupae are on the islands of Romblon,and Palawan. Again, on these islands, there are small suppliers breeding in their back garden as in the case in Bohol. Altogether these farms help several families, either for their full income or to supplement those with very low income; some breed full time and others work around 3 days a week to keep production sustainable
Each island has a “mother farm” for which permits are required, both from the local and national government authorities, to operate. All the other little farms or “back garden breeders” are included and have to be specifically cited on the mother farm’s permits so that they can operate legally. This is a procedure strictly implemented by the government to prevent individuals from catching butterflies in the wild (although it should be emphasised that without proper breeding, it would be impossible to sustain a business like this by merely “wild harvesting”).
The breeding programme: All the butterfly pupae are collected from farms twice aweek for export; they are transported to Manila, the capital, for a final quality check and for export licensing and documentation. The process for export documentation takes2 or 3 days which means ithas to be started few days prior to shipping day.
The operation in the Philippines requires several other full time employees; each has their own responsibilities – from dealing with legal requirements for farms and facilitating export documentation, organising internal transportation of butterfly pupae from farms to Manila, and the quality control checking and packing of the pupae for export.
In a country where the devastation of natural calamities have been aggravated by years of abuse of its own natural resources by its people, it is even more important that this kind of farming, a nature friendly one, is encouraged and practised.
he butterfly farm Kasiri is located on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica and consists of 100 hectares of land, where about half of the farm is still primary rainforest. The remaining half is old cattle pastures that have been left to regenerate.
One hectare (2.5 acres) of the farm is devoted to the production of butterfly pupae for export, an activity that has proven to be the sustainable alternative to agriculture. Butterfly production at Kasiri was started when looking for an environmentally friendly way of life as well as an interesting possibility to generate a new sources of income and employment for surrounding farmer families as well as for the indigenous Cabécar people living in the vicinity – when a traditional farmer looks at the forest he sees something to cut down for more pasture and cattle; here, it has become something to be protected.
The breeding programme: Around fifteen families are supported by the income that working at Kasiri represents. Since 1996, when Kasiri was started, various species have been bred such as Morpho peleides, Papilio thoas, Parides iphidamas, Heliconius sapho, Heliconius sara, Heliconius hecale, Heliconius cydno, Battus polidamas and Consul fabius among others.
The farm is equipped with seven mesh enclosures where the butterflies lay their eggs on host plants. The process is one of constant collections. With some butterfly species, it is the egg that will be collected inside the enclosures so they can hatch under controlled conditions in the small and rustic laboratory. With others, mostly because of less natural enemies (such as ants, spiders, crickets, wasps etc) the eggs are left to hatch inside the enclosures and then – again, depending on the species – collected in different stages of development to then be fed inside the laboratory.
When the pupae is being formed, the shedding of the larval skin and transformation into small suspended chrysalis, always happens under strict observation inside the laboratory. Every Sunday and Monday the pupae are checked in a “quality control” before they are packed in cotton wool and made ready to be exported from the capital San José, a three hour drive from the farm.
Kasiri co-operated with the non-profit Nairi Foundation, an organization set up specifically to establish the preservation of the area known as the Barbilla National Park (some 12,000 hectares/30,000 acres), a one hour walk from the Kasiri farm. Tropical rainforests are being cut at a staggering rate; Kasiri and Barbilla are positive examples of conservation.
Support and strengthening of Indian culture. ”Without our forest we can´t continue as Indians”, said one Cabécarman. He was talking about the Cabécar Indians’ living in the rainforest close to Kasiri and referring to their lifestyle being so closely interrelated with the environment.
To secure the Indian territories is an important struggle for this minority. Kasiri leads, in collaboration with the non-profit Nairi Foundation, a project of writing a series of books called “Sa ñayuwá sa síwawa” (Let´s study Cabécar). These are the first books ever to be written in the indigenous language and are being used in over 150 state-owned schools where Cabécar children study.
Marine Rojas, one of the owners of Kasiri is one of four authors of these books. The remaining authors are all Cabécar. The work of writing a series of books in the indigenous language, with its oral tradition, has meant a support and strengthening of the Cabécar culture. Language is part of culture, and at the same time the main means of expression and understanding.
The owners of Kasiri believe that giving knowledge, creativity and self-respect and identification to the members of the younger Cabécar generations are important ingredients to strengthen Cabécar culture, so that they can find ways to participate in the democratic process. The Cabécar represent a people with a culture and political system that have a lot to give and learn about human wisdom – they have an important and elemental conviction: the ones who wast or destroy what nature gives, destroy life itself. The project of producing schoolbooks is part of Kasiri’s bigger goal – to protect the tropical rain forest and at the same time support the people living there.