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Department of Geography


Sustainable insect farming in Papua New Guinea

Project outline


The island of New Guinea contains thousands of insect species many of which are eagerly sought by collectors, especially in USA, Germany and Japan. In PNG, out of the 820 known butterfly species, 55% are endemics including the world’s largest butterfly, Ornithoptera alexandrae. To meet market demand, insect farming and trading has been carried out in PNG for the past 26 years, but little research has been done on its institutional structure, ecological impact or socio-economic effects.

The farming and collecting of insects provides a high value commodity for a low investment. It is potentially an effective way to enhance rural livelihoods in high biodiversity/low income countries, with positive effects on habitat conservation. In PNG, for example, IFTA distributed £230,000 to local collectors/farmers in the period 1995-2002; rare butterflies have been sold for >£1500 a pair. Worldwide retail sales of butterflies may reach US$100m/year. If conducted sustainably this activity meets the criteria set out in the Convention on Biological Diversity.

A programme for the sustainable farming and collecting of insects has been operational in PNG for the past 26 years, ever since the inception of the IFTA by the PNG Department of Wildlife. IFTA is no longer state-run, being now part of PNG’s University of Technology’s business arm. The functions of IFTA are: (1) to provide a centre that provides a link between overseas buyers and local collectors/ farmers; (2) to provide a guaranteed market paying reasonable prices to local producers; (3) to ensure that payments are made directly and expediently; (4) to pool stock in order to fulfil large orders; (5) to serve as an educational centre for prospective farmers; and (6) to conduct research and monitoring of PNG insects, including those that are CITES-listed.

The ability of IFTA to carry out these functions has been eroded in recent years, for various reasons: (1) competition from within PNG because of the licensing of new insect traders; (2) external competition from expanding operations in West Papua (Indonesia) and Solomon Islands; and (3) a disharmonious relationship with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). For IFTA these problems have caused stagnation, some contraction of market share, and reduced geographical spread of collectors/farmers supplying insects. More research is needed to establish the scale of these problems.

On the positive side, one of the newcomers in insect trading is WEI, a long-established NGO which (like IFTA) is anxious to co-operate with the Darwin Initiative. DEC, which is responsible for export permits, is also willing to provide assistance, as is the Department of Biology at University of Papua New Guinea. With the resources of this Darwin Initiative project, we believe the potential exists to establish (1) researched guidelines for better and more co-ordinated policies, and (2) more effective practices by the insect purchasing agencies, in order to generate more substantial rural income benefits and sustainable biodiversity outcomes.

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