A different kind of Butterfly Effect

The southern highlands of Papua New Guinea are famous for lush rain forests and spectacular landscapes, but for all of the natural beauty, life here can be tough – and not because people go hungry. 

People have their land and their land has plenty of rainfall. You can grow essentials such as food in the village gardens or find it in the forests. The problem is that if you want anything from the modern world – like a mobile phone or an electric generator or even medicine – you have to have cash.

In the village the temptation is to make some money by exploiting the natural capital in your local forests. Logging companies will always pay you quick money for permission to “harvest” all of the trees in your local forest, but what after that? The logging company will be gone and so will your forest and all of the bounty it used to produce…

In most of PNG, the land belongs to the local people via traditional customary title. They decide how best to utilise the resources they own, but they also have the pressing need for cash now. The challenge is to use their resources in a way that will be sustainable into the future.

In 1993 I produced this ABC-TV story about an innovative and sustainable approach to this problem of cash — butterfly farming

Papua New Guinea has some of the largest and most beautiful butterflies in the world. These are highly prized by collectors and valuable everywhere. 

The principle of butterfly farming is simple. Encourage more butterflies by enriching their habitat with the plants they prefer. 

Then protect the caterpillars as they munch their way to the pupae stage. 

Then collect the pupae/cocoons and capture perfect and highly prized specimens as the butterflies emerge from within. 

The process is sustainable, good for the environment and profitable for the growers. It’s a small step in the right direction.

The 1993 ABC-TV science program was called A Question of Survival.