Karl Rich has been helping to farm an altogether more delicate animal than those usually associated with agribusiness.
The Lincoln University Agribusiness and International Development Associate Professor was recently part of a multi-disciplinary, international group of researchers looking to develop an innovative approach to conservation in India — butterfly farming.
The group wants to aid conservation of butterflies in Western Ghats, “an area with some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world and one threatened by unsustainable agricultural and land use patterns,” Associate Professor Rich says.
He says in developing countries conservation efforts can be very challenging.
“It can be more financially lucrative to engage in activities that are harmful to the environment and biodiversity. A crucial need is to develop and promote conservation programs that take place as part of the wider socio-economic system, balancing environmental considerations with those of stakeholders.”
They looked at exporting the butterflies but strict regulations prevent the export of India’s flora and fauna.
“Global markets for butterflies are largely saturated as well,” he adds.
So the team explored ways of integrating butterfly farming into farming itself.
“Our research found that butterfly gardens can be integrated at low cost in many farming systems, such as coffee, as a source of income diversification through ecotourism or environmental branding.
They also designed a model butterfly garden as an education tool for biodiversity and environmental protection.
“By housing this garden at a school for the disabled (Swastha), such a site could further provide vocational skills, rehabilitation, and therapy for students, while promoting social awareness at a community level.”
“Our approach represents a low-cost, scalable means to mainstream conservation efforts into everyday activities, and promote social awareness of the plight of disadvantaged groups,” he says.
An expected outcome of this project will be to highlight Kodagu, the district of the Western Ghats where the project is taking place, as a centre of environmental awareness and biodiversity preservation. Additional funding is sought to expand the garden at Swastha.
It could also be a source of environmental inspiration for the rest of India and other developing countries. It is hoped that this model could be applied in other contexts in the near future.
Who knows what can happen when you apply the “butterfly effect”.