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Butterflies in my Belly

By October 03, 2022 0

There exists a symbiotic relationship between butterflies and their natural habitat. In Ghana, home to over 900 butterfly species, their natural space is threatened by human activity, especially through the use of harmful chemicals. The restoration of ecosystems is at the core of protecting and preserving these living organisms, of which a growing number is endangered.

Divine Agborli is a Ghanaian creative and environmentalist who uses art as a tool to engineer social change, transformation and development. Here, he takes us into Ghana’s butterfly ecosystem and showcases some of the country’s conservation efforts through his acrylic art series “Butterflies in my Belly”, which was originally exhibited in Accra in May 2021. This acrylic painting is meant as a reminder of just how many different and colourful butterfly species there are.

Their beauty is breath-taking; they have vibrant colours and are swift in their movement while serving as agents of the pollination process of plants. By simply enjoying the nectar, butterflies ensure the survival of crops and plant species - especially those with economic benefit. Growing up, it was common to see different species of butterflies flying in and around our houses and communities. As children, we were fascinated by their beauty.

Our curiosity compelled us to run after them, to admire them at close range and satisfy our childhood imagination. This art piece depicts the symbiotic relationship between fruit trees, flowers and butterflies. Many butterflies consume the nectar of flowers and also aid in the reproductive process by spreading pollen grains from one plant to another. But aside from nectar-sucking butterflies, which most people are familiar with, a sizable number of butterflies are dependent on forests and feed on rotting or fermenting fruits.

Divine Agborli uses his art as a tool to raise awareness about social and environmental issues. Though Ghana has about 900 species of butterfly, today it’s becoming ever more difficult to find them around. The excessive use of chemicals, such as weedicides and pesticides for farming, decimate particular host plants that butterflies require for feeding and egg deposition (known as oviposition). This acrylic painting depicts the developmental stages (egg, larvae, pupa and adult) of a butterfly, also referred to as 'metamorphosis'.

Other human activities also pose a threat to Ghana’s butterfly populations. To some extent, man-made global warming is destroying their natural habitat. But the increasing land and forest degradation through illegal mining and logging activities further contribute to gradually pushing these beautiful insects into extinction. Worldwide, about 18,000 different species of butterflies have been identified, of which about 4,000 are found in Africa.

Dozens of butterfly species around the world are said to be endangered or under threat of extinction. Notable among them is the beloved Monarch butterfly. Indeed, butterflies are among the insect populations that have suffered the biggest declines due to habitat changes induced by human activity. The consequences for ecosystems, and by extension for humans, could be disastrous.

Five million trees were planted as part of the "Green Ghana Project: Let’s Go Planting" initiative. Forest restoration is an important part of butterfly conservation. The Ghanaian government has implemented policies to reduce illegal mining and logging activities across the country, or at least to limit their negative impacts. A notable initiative is the planting of 5 million forest and fruit trees nationwide as part of the “Green Ghana Project” launched in 2021.

This can go a long way toward raising new forests, thereby restoring degraded sites to boost the existing population of butterflies. However, it is worth noting the importance of monitoring these trees over time: officers of the state and participating citizens need to take care of the trees to ensure growth and, by extension, the sustainability of the project.

The Bobiri Forest Reserve and Butterfly Sanctuary, in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. The Bobiri Forest Reserve and Butterfly Sanctuary in Ghana is home to over 400 species of tropical butterflies. It is located 7 kilometres from Kubease, a town on the main Kumasi-Konongo highway in the Ashanti Region. The entity is a key player in the country’s conservation of butterflies.

The facility is managed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Forestry Institute of Ghana (CSIR-FORIG). It doubles as a research outstation and an ecotourism centre. A view of the Bobiri Forest Reserve and Butterfly Sanctuary, with a sign-post depicting the developmental stages of a butterfly. In 2015, the Bobiri Forest Reserve and Butterfly Sanctuary won the Exemplary Award for Sustainable Ecotourism in the Ashanti Region from the Ghana Tourism Authority.

Divine Agborli with one of his acrylic paintings at his exhibition "Butterflies in my Belly" in Accra, Ghana, 2021. The conservation of butterflies and the environment at large is a collective effort. That’s why, as a creative and an environmentalist, I organised an art exhibition dubbed “Butterflies in my Belly” in Accra, Ghana, in May 2021. The aim was to showcase the beauty and value that butterflies add to our environment, create awareness about the harmful effect of the excessive use of chemicals on the land that butterflies and other insects depend on, as well as to advocate for better environmental policies.

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