Colombian Company Uses Butterflies To Change Women's Lives


A valley in Palmira, Colombia, which was once war-torn and filled with little economic opportunity has been transformed by two women, Patricia Restrepo and her daughter Vanessa. Ten years ago, the women started a butterfly export business called Alas de Colombia after they noticed that there was a growing demand for butterflies at places like nature museums.

The company employs 25 local woman as their suppliers, and ships around 8,000 butterflies a month. The Restrepos are proud of their accomplishment, says Vanessa:

This sort of business didn't exist in Colombia before we came along. My mother and I had to invent it. There was a lot of trial and error, and we had to convince many people in the government. We had the good fortune to be pioneers, and we brought our dream to earth.

Just a few years ago, according to Patricia Restrepo, it would not have been possible to have such a business in the area because of the region's violence:

People here lived in terror of the parracos [paramilitaries] until six or seven years ago. Since then it's been quiet because of the tough policies of [former President Alvaro] Uribe.

It used to be that the women in the area had little choice but to work at a nearby poultry plant, since farming and domestic jobs disappeared due to the conflicts in the area. But now Alas de Colombia offers a chance at more satisfying and less grueling work. As Joana Martinez, a single mother who once worked slaughtering chickens but now raises butterflies, put it,

Instead of killing things all day, I'm raising living things that fly. I can't imagine a better job.

Olga Lucia Salazar, who used to break chickens necks and pluck their feathers for a living, had similarly hopeful things to say about her new job:

All I had to look forward to was miserable arthritis and permanently swollen hands. I can do this at home taking care of my kids. And I work for myself. There is no one screaming orders at me.

That sounds like a dramatic improvement, and really being a butterfly farmer sounds like maybe the most wonderful job ever. All of the butterfly metaphors about rebirth and peace and metamorphosis are more than apt here.

War-torn Colombian Valley Now Produces Butterflies [LA Times]