COMMERCIAL butterfly breeding or captive butterfly breeding, the practice of breeding butterflies and moths in controlled environments with the purpose of supplying the stock to various buyers, including, research facilities, universities, zoos, insectariums, elementary and secondary schools has largely been misunderstood .
According to an expert in the vocation that was introduced successfully in the East Usambaras by an American citizen, Theron Brown Morgan in 2003 as a pilot project aiming at encouraging villagers living in villages near the Amani Nature Reserve to abstain from activities that destroy the environment is now at crossroads.
The blanket ban on exportation of live animals that was slapped in 2016 by the government has put more than 250 butterfly farmers in dilemma despite spirited calls on the government to lift it.
A butterfly farming expert, however, says that silence over the continued ban has largely been due to a lack of scientific research data on butterfly farming and its role in enhancing conservation of important forests.
The Manager of the Butterfly Farming project in the East Usambaras, Amiri Sheghembe said that since the commencement of the project in 2003 very few researchers have come to conduct research on the project and its contribution to conservation efforts.
"Very few students have come here to conduct research on butterfly farming. Researchers or scientists would be the people today to defend us with ample data on butterfly farming and how it has contributed to conservation efforts and income generation among communities living near forests," said Sheghembe.
The Project Manager said that the blanket ban has affected 256 butterfly farmers who are now groping how to adapt to the situation.The project is being implemented in nine villages of the Amani Division, Muheza District and three villages in Korogwe District.
Butterfly farming has been an important activity that has helped young people, in particular, to overcome the urge to indulge in activities that are unfriendly to forest and environmental conservation such as illegal logging.
The project has been extended to communities neighbouring Chome Forest, in Same District, Kilimanjaro Region and Zanzibar in communities living near Jozani Forest.
"In Zanzibar, it has helped to establish the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre and butterfly trade has not been banned in that part of the Union Government," said Sheghembe.
The vocation is not confined to Tanzania. Sheghembe emphasized that the butterflies that are bred in cages and sold in the form of pupas to butterfly houses in Europe, the USA and Australia cannot in anyway affect their existence in their natural habitats.
"The life cycle of the butterfly is not more than seven days and in the natural habitat when they disperse to orange farmers in the lowlands they are treated as pests.
He also dispelled fears by some people who think exporting the pupas would encourage breeding those butterflies in those countries.
"It is very expensive to breed those butterflies in Europe because you have to create the climate and environmental conditions of their natural habits. It is cheap to import them from here than try to breed them there," he emphasized.
"The government must think this over because we do not deplete butterflies in their natural habitat.
We are rather resolute to make sure the natural habitat is sustained," said Ignacio Mzalia, a Butterfly keeper at Kwemsoso village, in the East Usambaras. Mzalia is also a dairy farmer. The history of the butterfly breeding dates back to 5000.
The practice of breeding silkworms for the production of raw silk, also known as Sericulture, has been underway for at least 5,000 years in China. It is dependent on humans for its reproduction and does not occur naturally in the wild.
Serious commercial breeding activity began in 1977. At this time the tomato industry on Guernsey had become bankrupt and unused greenhouses remained.
An entrepreneur purchased vacant greenhouse and filled it with tropical plants - creating a tropical jungle environment. At this point, butterflies from Asia were acquired.
The newly constructed enclosure contained a waterfall and small stream. The structure was publicized and opened to the public. In 1977, there was no access to commercial butterfly breeders in tropical regions.
Stock was obtained from amateur lepidopterists who periodically provided few dozen butterflies to the exhibit. The Guernsey butterfly exhibit was a commercial success.
Butterfly exhibits rapidly gained a positive reputation with investors. They were seen as novel commercial activities generating a return in a short of time.
Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel near the French coast and is a self-governing British Crown dependency. It's known for beach resorts like Cobo Bay and the scenery of its coastal cliffs. The butterfly exhibit industry continued to expand in 1980 and until 1988 in the United Kingdom.
New exhibits were started every year. Some were separate exhibits while others were part of wealthy estates. Other commercial exhibits were added onto already existing businesses such as garden supply centres.
Butterfly farming has been economically successful in increasing economic opportunities for local people in Ecuador and Costa Rica. Butterfly farming also promotes conservation activities and education.
Commercial breeding in developing countries is readily understood by the people who do it. It is environmentally non-destructive, uses available raw materials, economically and environmentally sustainable. It is considered to be ethical in that it is not dehumanizing or degrading to the people who do it.
In contrast to the clear cutting of natural habitats, butterfly farming is dependent upon native plant species. A butterfly farmer keeps areas of land intact with naturally occurring vegetation.
Commercial butterfly farmers plant native plants on the property, providing food sources for the caterpillars. Commercial butterfly breeders generate employment and support the rural economy. It inhibits the rural to urban movement patterns.