A turnaround in the situation was initiated by an ethnobotanist. The resource base of the project is the butterflies in the forest. Recognizing the considerable demand for tropical butterflies for the live butterfly exhibit industry in Europe and America, he reasoned that substantial revenues could be earned by the forest edge community by rearing Arabuko Smoke butterflies for export, without a single tree needing to be cut.
The project involved the identification and propagation of local butterfly hostplants. The number of pupae exported grew from around 10,000 in 1994 to over 46,000 in 1998. Earnings increased correspondingly; by 1998, cumulative export and community earnings exceeded US$ 100,000 and KSh 2,000,000. After three years of butterfly farming there had been no adverse impact on the wild butterfly populations. More importantly, the project had had significant impact on both attitudes and incomes. The proportion wishing to conserve at least part of the forest had risen from 41% in 1993 to 84%, and butterfly earnings estimated to contribute some 73% of farmer's cash incomes from farm products.