Magazine article New Internationalist

Profit from Principle: Katy Salmon Goes to East Africa's Largest Indigenous Coastal Forest to Find out What Converted Kenyan Farmers from Forest Vandalism to Environmental Activism [Butterfly Farming under the Kipepo Project]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Profit from Principle: Katy Salmon Goes to East Africa's Largest Indigenous Coastal Forest to Find out What Converted Kenyan Farmers from Forest Vandalism to Environmental Activism [Butterfly Farming under the Kipepo Project]

Article excerpt

[Graph Not Transcribed]

[Graph Not Transcribed]

THE subsistence farmers complained that the forest brought nothing but suffering. At night animals came out from behind the trees and destroyed the farmers' cassava, maize and cashew nut crops. 'Elephants can eat and trample all your crops in one night. The baboons steal maize when it is growing. Then you have nothing to eat... or to sell,' says Charo Ngambao.

Charo is talking about the Arabuko-Sokoke forest, the second most important in Africa, located some 80 kilometres north of Kenyan city of Mombasa. At one time this ancient coastal woodland stretched from Somalia to Mozambique. Now just 400 square kilometres remain.

Visitors from all over the world come to Arabuko-Sokoke to see some of the 230 kinds of birds that nest here, among them 6 globally threatened species. Here too live several unique plants and animals that are found nowhere else on earth - such as the Sokoke scops owl - and endangered species like the African elephant and the Sokoke bushy-tailed mongoose.

Yet 10 years ago the majority of local people like Charo living on the edge of the forest wanted it to be cut down and allocated to them as farmland. When he and others like him tried to supplement their meagre incomes by taking wood from the forest, they risked arrest and prosecution by local police.

Charo was jailed for illegal logging back in 1982. Kenyan prisons are a virtual death sentence. Malnourished inmates are locked into filthy, overcrowded cells where they sleep on the floor, often among their own waste. Fatalities are common. 'I stayed in prison two weeks but then I paid the fine. I don't want to go back there again,' he recalls.

Today Charo no longer steals timber. Instead he works with the forest to create butterflies and butterfly eggs. When the eggs hatch into caterpillars he looks after them, feeding them on forest leaves until they pupate. The pupae are then exported to butterfly houses in Europe and the United States, before the butterflies emerge.

His work forms part of a project that conservationists developed in 1993 to persuade locals that it was in their interests to preserve the forest. Called the Kipepeo Project (Kipepeo means butterfly in the local Kiswahili language) farmers like Ngambao make in a good week about US$20 from selling the pupae, compared to 25 cents before the project started. He now has money to send his seven children to school and pay for medical treatment. And with loans from Kipepeo, his family has also been able to set up two other businesses. 'We have opened a kiosk and my wife also is tailoring with a machine we got from the Kipepeo project.'

The majority of butterfly farmers are women. Looking after the caterpillars is a job that they can fit in between their many other domestic chores. Florance Riziki, a mother of six, lives with her fifteen family members in two mud houses on the edge of the forest. Cats and dogs run around the compound playing with the children while the women sit in the shade of a tree preparing beans for lunch. They are largely self-sufficient. Chickens and cows provide meat and milk and a vegetable patch provides greens, maize and tomatoes.

However - like Charo - Florance and her family barely had access to the cash economy before the Kipepeo project started, so paying for school fees and medical bills was a real problem. …

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