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The East Usambara Mountains are part of a chain of maintains known as the Eastern Arc. This area is a world renown biodiversity hotspot. The forests atop these mountains have been isolated from other wet forests for millions of years and in that time a wide range of unique primates, birds, chameleons, frogs, and insects species have evolved.

At the same time, the slopes of these mountains receive high amounts of rainfall and are attractive places to farm. As the human population in these mountains has grown, the forests have been cleared to make way for tea estates and small farms. Unfortunately, the local farming practices are often unsustainable and people are constantly clearing forests to access more land. The forests are also under pressure as a source of building supplies, charcoal, and firewood. This is what makes the East Usambaras a 'hotspot'. While there is a tremendous number of unique animal and plant species, they are also under threat of extinction.

To help protect the last remaining forests in these mountains, the government of Tanzania has set aside many forest reserves. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in increased poverty in communities that depend on these forests for logging income and expanding farms. At the same time, the government does not have sufficient resources and depends on local communities to help protect the forests. To help reduce the burden of conservation, the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group has started project's like the Amani Butterfly Project in order to reduce poverty and turn conservation into a benefit rather than a liability.


As described in the farming section, butterfly farmers in Amani rely on natural forests near their communities as a source of host plants for their butterfly farms. They also rely on the forest as a source of genetic diversity. The farmers often create captive populations with the eggs of only 1 or 2 female butterflies. The farmers know that, just like keeping chickens, it is important to avoid inbreeding in butterflies and therefore, they sometimes trade male butterflies or capture more from the wild.

Butterfly farmers in other parts of the world are not as reliant upon natural forests. In part, this is because the live butterfly trade requires quick access to international courier services and airports. Therefore, it is difficult to produce butterfly pupae for export in remote locations where natural forests are found. In order to farm without access to the forest, butterfly farmers need to invest lots of money to recreate some of the conditions such as humidity and shade found in natural forests. Additionally, they tend to breed butterfly species that use host plants that are easy to propagate in nurseries, such as vines or herbs that produce seeds within 1 or 2 years. They also build bigger, more expensive, flight enclosures which allow them to maintain larger captive populations that are less susceptible to inbreeding. However, even many city based farmers still rely on natural forests from time to time and regardless of where it is done, butterfly farming provides a livelihood that is more environmentally friendly than many alternatives.

Having access to natural forest reduces the capital costs of farming butterflies and allows farmers in the Amani Butterfly Project to compete with wealthier farmers in other parts of the world. This access creates a real link between livelihoods and conservation since many of the forests accessed by butterfly farmers in Amani are inside protected areas. A 2006 study suggests that this link has had a positive effect on butterfly farmer's behaviors and attitudes towards forest conservation.


In 2006, the project's Technical Advisor, Theron Morgan-Brown, carried out a survey to examine the link between butterfly farming and forest conservation. The survey was administered to nearly 300 people living in the East Usambara Mountains, half of whom were butterfly farmers. To learn more about this survey, continue reading or click on the following link.



In the 2006 survey, a large majority of butterfly framers in the Amani Butterfly Project indicated that they see a connection between their ability to farm butterflies and having access to natural forests. They also indicated that they believe that timber and pole cutting (two common disturbances in Amani forests) are harmful for wild butterfly populations. The results of these questions are displayed in the chart below.


In another part of the survey, interviewees asked people about their level of participation in a list of behaviors that would help forest conservation in the area. The behaviors included:

  • Membership in village environmental committees (responsible for helping to enforce forest protection laws)
  • Participation in environmental committee activities
  • Planting trees on household land
  • Planting trees on village land
  • Preserving natural forest on household land
  • Discouraging illegal cutting in protect forests
  • Reporting illegal cutting in protect forests

Butterfly farmers reported significantly higher levels of participation in these behaviors than non-butterfly farmers, with the exception of reporting illegal behavior for which there was no difference. The average participation score for butterfly farmers was 11 while that average score for non-butterfly farmers was only 6.5.


The survey also asked people to list their households top three sources of income in order of importance. The graph to the right shows that households that ranked butterfly farming as a more important source of income participate more often in forest conservation behaviors than households who are less dependent on butterfly farming. This finding suggests that the differences between butterfly farmers and non-butterfly farmers are not just a product of education or attitudes, but are also driven by economic motivations. This final piece of evidence demonstrates that the link between butterfly farming and forest conservation in Amani is real and that butterfly farmers are working to help forest conservation in an effort to protect their livelihoods.

Additionally, there is ample anecdotal evidence that butterfly farmers are taking actions to help protect forests in the Amani area. As a group, they have pushed for the creation of village forest reserves, expansion of existing forest reserves, organized village tree planting efforts, and helped draw attention to and stop illegal cutting in a forest managed by a local tea estate.

2007 The Amani Butterfly Project