Weaving silk into money | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 28, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 28, 2008

Weaving silk into money

SERICULTURE is recognised as a potential cash earner in the developing countries where unemployment and poverty problems exist, hindering the national development. There are ample opportunities to employ men and women of all ages, including children, at all stages of sericultural activities, starting from mulberry cultivation to silk reeling. As a developing country, Bangladesh is facing severe unemployment and poverty problems both in rural and in urban areas.
Despite the prevailing favourable agro-climatic and socio-economic conditions, sericulture has not yet flourished as a profitable cash earner in Bangladesh. The major cause may be low production of inferior quality cocoons and raw silk per unit area. This is responsible for supply of poor quality silkworm eggs, traditional practice of sericulture, improper supervision and technical support service at the farmers' level.
The application of appropriate technology needs knowledge and skills as sericulture deals with both plant (mulberry) and insect (silkworm) simultaneously, which is not practiced in any other agricultural crops. Moreover, a silkworm is a sensitive and delicate insect, which requires optimum environment (temperature and relative humidity) during its rearing, and during the spinning of cocoons.
BSRTI, the only national research institute of its kind on sericulture, has so far developed a good number of high-yielding good quality mulberry and silkworm varieties. With the development and transfer of sericulture and reeling technologies to the field the leaf yield of mulberry has been increased to 35-40mt/ha/yr in place of 15-20mt/ha/yr, cocoon yield increased to 60-70kg/100dfls in place of 25-40kg/100dfls, and 1 kg of raw silk has been produced from 8-10 kg cocoons in place of 15-20 kg cocoons. These results were obtained when field trials and demonstrations were conducted at the farmers' level in different regions of the country.
BSRTI is recognised as the only institute in the country, which generates technical manpower on sericulture. Therefore, smooth and steady functioning of BSRTI is a must for the existence and development of sericulture in the country, but it has been facing severe problems for a long time due to fund constraints and shortage of scientific personnel.
The senior scientists of the institute are on the verge of retirement, and after 2008 there will be no senior scientists in the institute to guide and supervise the research, training and technology dissemination programs. The institute is already facing a great problem because of this.
BSRTI is a specialised research institution, so the vacancy cannot be filled up with the recruitment of new scientists because no degree on sericulture is awarded by any of the public and private universities in the country. The expertise on sericulture and silk industry can only be developed through conducting research and training at BSRTI after completion of academic degrees in a university.
The fund constraints hamper the activities of BSRTI in providing R&D support on sericulture. The R&D activities of the institute are conducted only with the funds available from the allocation of the development project. But it is very difficult to approve a project because, in most of the cases, it takes a long time even after completion of the existing one.
The time gap between completion and initiation of projects greatly hampers running of R&D activities of BSRTI. Bangladesh Sericulture Board (BSB) and Bangladesh Silk Foundation (BSF) are also facing the same problems because of fund constraints.
Because of the ups and downs of motivation, and in the extension activities of BSB due to fund constraints, some of the sericulture farmers in major silk growing areas of Bholahat under Chapainawabganj district uprooted their bush mulberry from the field and diverted to other agricultural/horticultural crops. This happened only due to irregular availability of funds from the government.
The practice of sericulture is a continuous activity, which suffers a lot if there is any hindrance. Mulberry is a perennial plant, and it gives consistent leaf yield for 15 years. Once the continuity of sericulture activities breaks, mulberry needs to be replanted, and it takes at least two years to be useful for silkworm rearing.
At present, sericulture in Bangladesh mainly depends on roadside/homestead mulberry trees. But sericulture cannot stand only on tree mulberry as tree leaves are not suitable for young silkworms due to low moisture and nutrient content. Moreover, roadside tree mulberry leaves are mostly contaminated with dust, and silkworm diseases breakout causing great loss to cocoon production.
For sustainability of sericulture, high bush mulberry cultivation should be introduced for producing quality leaf in order to have good cocoon crop harvest. Due to shortage of available agricultural land it is difficult to practice high bush mulberry cultivation alone. In this situation, high bush mulberry should be raised in paired row system so that agricultural crops like cereals, pulses, legumes, vegetables and spices can be simultaneously cultivated in between the paired lines of mulberry.
The existing problems hindering the sustainability and development of sericulture in the country could easily be addressed with the kind attention of the government. It is the responsibility of the government to protect and patronise the silk sub-sector.
To address the existing problems in sericulture, both short and long-term policies need to be considered. In short term policy the manpower problem could be solved through appointment of retired local sericulture experts on contract basis. Then new manpower should be recruited immediately and trained by the experts.
The long-term policy will include creation of posts in a four tire system like SO, SSO, PSO and CSO, and there should be opportunity for promotion of the scientists to the higher posts. Again, there should be provision for higher studies/training of the scientists on sericulture and silk industry abroad.
To maintain continuity of sericultural activities in the public sector funds should be provided with the budget itself. This will ensure regularity in development activities of this sub-sector. A separate development project could be approved for civil works, and procurement of machineries/equipments and vehicles needed for development of sericulture and silk industry.
For sustainability of sericulture, continuous technical support service has to be urgently provided to the farmers and reelers. There is also the need to impart training to farmers and reelers with practical demonstration. Introducing intercropping of mulberry with agricultural crops will need financial support to farmers. Once sericulture is made profitable to the farmers it can be sustained for long. Further, sericulture farmers should be provided with subsidy/soft loans as given for agricultural crops by the government.
There is also need to provide technical support service to private silk entrepreneurs for producing quality silk products. In this regard, a sericulture complex could be established at BSRTI, or near to silk industries, so that they can produce quality products using the modern facilities at the complex, paying reasonable fees for the work, as most of the private industries do not have sophisticated machineries for production of quality silk products. This will help in rapid development of this industry.

Dr. Abdul Aziz Sarker is Director-in-charge (on LPR) Bangladesh Sericulture Research and Training Institute (BSRTI), Baliapukur, Rajshahi.

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