By Ana de Leon
Cerro La Vieja, Panama, Aug 15 (EFE).- Jaime Navarro had doubts seven years ago when he gave up cattle-ranching in favor of raising butterflies, but now sees himself as a pioneer in one of Panama’s emerging industries.
Navarro had been struggling for several years even before a jaguar wiped out his herd in 2016, yet he reacted skeptically when biologist Samuel Valdes urged him to transform his spread 170 km (106 mi) west of Panama City into a haven for butterflies.
“I thought ‘this guy is crazy’ because in agriculture you are subject to you sell the cow for an immediate result and you have an income. But the investment to raise a cow is very high and their survival rate is worse,” Navarro tells EFE.
With Navarro supplying him, Valdes opened the Mariposario Cerro La Vieja butterfly sanctuary as a tourist attraction, but the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to that.
In June 2022, the Panamanian ambassador to Turkiye called Valdes with a proposal: transform the Mariposario into a supplier of butterflies to Ankara, then in the process of creating Europe’s largest butterfly sanctuary.
“There were no butterflies of Panama, there were of Costa Rica and other tropical countries,” Valdes tells EFE. “There was an interesting opportunity that we could exploit as a country, since we are a reference in terms of biodiversity.”
Panama has roughly 1,600 different butterfly species, according to the biologist.
Mariposario Cerro La Vieja now produces roughly 1,000 butterflies a month of 12 different species and by the middle of 2024, Valdes expects output to reach 4,000 a month, mostly for export.
A chrysalis shipped abroad fetches between 50 cents and $1.50, while butterflies sold in Panama to be released at weddings – a growing trend in the Central American nation – go for between 25 cents and $1 dollar, “depending on the species,” he says.
“A production of 500 chrysalises monthly can generate $600 a month, which is much more than the minimum wage” and all of that under “a business model that obliges you to be sustainable,” the biologist and entrepreneur says.
A butterfly farmer can’t use pesticides or insecticides and “depends on biodiversity, on the native plants of the area where you are and the butterflies that surround your residence or your farm,” he adds.
“The project is intrinsically one of conservation, it can’t be done any other way,” Valdes says of his and Navarro’s effort to create a network of butterfly farmers.
With support from Cobre Panama, a subsidiary of Canadian miner First Quantum, Valdes is offering prospective butterfly farmers “training and inputs so they can have a sustainable alternative for their family income.”
He says that can guarantee the farmers a market for their production.