28-02-2021 by Leni Frau
There is a business in the undergrowth between Malindi and Watamu that in recent years has provided work for over 50,000 people and their families. Something that in the land of fruits, fishing and tourist activities you would not expect, but that draws on a great resource and potential that develops around the endemic Arabuko Sokoke forest.
We are talking about butterfly breeding for export, which the pandemic stopped after years of expansion and the creation of several local farms, some linked to cooperatives and village communities. It is no coincidence that this resource is called "Arabuko's flying gold".
A year ago, the European market banned the import of insects from non-Schengen countries and so an economic machine aimed at the foreign market suddenly came to a standstill, jeopardising many salaries on which the livelihood of entire families and school fees for many children depend.
Speaking to the media some time ago, researcher Hussein Aden, who also coordinates the Kipepeo Butterfly project in the area of the Gede ruins, confirmed that the local population depends heavily on butterfly breeding, as well as on tourism, which remains the activity that provides the most employment and is obviously also in crisis.
"Suddenly for the butterfly farmers and its industry," said Aden, "everything has changed completely, leaving thousands of people in despair because they cannot feed their families and educate their children. It was hoped that the commercial blockade related to the pandemic would last only a few months, but after a year there has been almost no recovery at all," he said.
The butterfly breeders earn up to €4 000 a year, which on the Kenyan coast is a handsome salary, from selling the colourful and distinctive species they are able to breed. Usually a particular worm can cost as much as 100 shillings, while there are rare species in great demand of which the Arabuko forest is one of the few homes.
The butterflies are taken to exhibition centres and museums, but also kept free in the gardens of urban areas, to create atmosphere with their beauty. They are also purchased by private individuals for their estates and fine villas.
The United Kingdom and the United States are the best markets for Kenyans, but as of 5 March 2020, everything is at a standstill.
This is a toyal loss of about $18 million per year.
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