An international market exists for dried insect specimens. ‘Farming’ insects provides income to small numbers of people in PNG. Butterflies are the main insect exported, with lesser numbers of beetles, stick insects and other insects. Specimens must be undamaged, so they are produced by ‘farming’ rather than collecting adults from the wild. ‘Butterfly farming’ involves the farmer planting foods that butterflies eat. Butterflies lay eggs on the food plants, which support caterpillars until they form pupae. The farmer collects the pupae and either sells it to traders or hatches the pupae, kills the newly hatched butterfly and sells the butterfly.
Interest in buying PNG butterflies began in the early 1970s, with trading dominated by a few foreigners. In 1974 the Australian Administration started an Insect Farming and Conservation Project, which became the Insect Farming and Trading Agency (IFTA) in 1978, based in Bulolo. It is currently part of the University of Technology’s commercial arm, University Development Consultancy.
Three other organisations are involved in marketing insects from PNG, but the two organisations that dominate this market (IFTA and Wau Ecology Institute) are both based in Morobe Province. A study over an eight-year period (1995–2002) found that insects were farmed in all provinces except Enga in 1995 but, by 2002, farming was reduced to eight provinces. The number of insect farmers was stable at 120–130, but there was a greater concentration in the Wau and Bulolo areas of Morobe Province. The total amount earned per year from insect farming and collecting was in the range K60 000–K120 000 for the period 1995–2002. Average income per farmer or collector over this period was K350/year. However, income has declined over the period 2002–2008 because of shrinking international demand, reduced profitability for traders and problems with obtaining PNG export permits.