Tanzania: Butterfly Farmers Irked By No Word On Export Ban

Tanga — Sakale, a village that leap into fame for illegal alluvial gold mining between 2003 and 2004 came to life once again when villagers in the heart of the East Usambara Mountains in Muheza and Korogwe Districts, braved the rain using umbrellas to cover themselves at the celebrations to mark the World Science Day, marked at the national level over the weekend.

At the event, explanations on the benefits of butterflies and moths as part of education to mark the day seemed to add very little to what they knew on butterflies.

They hoped for something else. The fate of the extended ban on export of live animals, which 'unfortunately' included butterfly pupas from cages owned by individuals who undertook butterfly farming as part of the efforts to help in the conservation of forests in the biodiversity-rich East Usambara Mountains.

Experts from the National Museum, involved in a three-year project (2017-2019) on "Assessment of Lepidoptera Pollinator Species Diversity Data in East Africa' Butterflies, who used the occasion to explain the benefits of the butterflies and moths found, were surprised to lern that the villager had very wide knowledge of butterflies and moths.

An 81-year-old villager, Peter John said that apart from other benefits, including medicinal, butterflies have been the indicator for the beginning of the long rain season for quite a long time.

"When you see the white butterflies going north, you know it is time for planting and the heavy long rains. When they come back, it is time for harvesting," said old man John.

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That is why in recent years, it has been easy to coax villagers to undertake butterfly farming as a source of income and an alternative way of encouraging conservation of the biodiversity-rich mountain forests.

The villagers, who also voiced concern over the state of the roads that are supposed to transport spice and other agricultural produce introduced to save as alternatives to farming systems that destroy the environment, were disappointed by the lack of a word on the fate of the ban on export of butterfly pupas.

The Guest of honour who was supposed to grace the celebrations, the Tanga Regional Commissioner, Martine Shigela did not attend. The Government official who finally came, the Amani Division Officer, Mwanaidi Rajabu only ended in appealing to villagers to give thei children stories on the natural wealth of such things as butterflies, moths and millipedes to help in the flora's conservation and fauna.

She was responding to a word from Mzee Robert who said there are still plenty of elder who knew traditional medicines in the forests.

As hundreds of villagers continue to hope and continue to harness their butterfly cages helping in increasing the number of butterflies, the Chief Project Coordinator and Conservator (Biology) at National Museum project leader, Adelaide Sallema, said that there is concern on the decline of some pollinator species.

"Currently, most of the ecosystems in East Africa, particularly Tanzania, are facing threats, including changes in land use and land cover, increased demand for agricultural land, environmental pollution, invasive alien species and climate hang among others," Ms. Sallema said.

She said, however, information on special identity, status and diversity, role in pollination, abundance and population trends is scarce.

She said for the East African region, data is urgently needed to facilitate combined use of economic, socio-cultural and holistic valuation of pollinator gains and to provide information for the management of and decision making about pollinators and pollination.

"The need for wild pollinator data is critical in the region, particularly in Tanzania for long-term monitoring of both pollinators and pollination process," she said.

Sallema said they recognize the role of butterfly faring and would try to advise the government accordingly on the issue.

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