Country's mulberry silk production is about 16,000 metric tones (both multi and bivoltine) and during the 12th plan period, the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India is contemplating to boost production to 23,000 metric tones. Even if the target is achieved, there will be a shortage of mulberry silk as the demand is increasing considerably.
Bivoltine Silk is required in large volumes by our silk fabric exporters. It is estimated that about 10,000 metric tones is entering the country officially and also substantial quantity is entering the country unofficially through Nepal and Bangla borders. Country's mulberry silk production is about 16,000 metric tones (both multi and bivoltine) and during the 12th plan period, the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India is contemplating to boost production to 23,000 metric tones. Even if the target is achieved, there will be a shortage of mulberry silk as the demand is increasing considerably. The silk production in Japan had dropped significantly during 1987 which was filled by China by massive investments in on-farm sector thereby assumed an unassailable lead in the silk market. It is estimated that the present production of silk in China is about 85,000 to 90,000 metric tones as against 1,30,000 metric tones during 2006. In China, millions of small farmers are engaged in cocoon production and the conversion is carried out on automatic reeling machines, thus ensuring uniform quality. This is the plus point of China silk. The Central Silk Board and the state sericulture departments are trying to increase Bivoltine cocoon production to meet the demand of the power loom and exporters. In spite of various measures taken by them, significant success is not achieved on this direction. However, the news now emanating from China favours Indian silk industry. The sericulture in China is loaded with heavy subsidies coupled with the supply of compulsory low cost labour. The recent reports emanating from China indicates a policy shift from this position with more liberal choice on jobs and occupations.
Experts feel that with these policy changes along with industrialization and decreasing population growth, silk production in China will be on declining side. Their main concentration is towards food grains and vegetables, as arable land is less compared to our country.
Weather is not favorable throughout the year in China. In India weather condition is favorable throughout the year in the traditional mulberry silk producing states and the present Chinese scenario is a good chance for India to cash in on the potential demand for silk in the world.
The Bivoltine silk reeled locally on the Automatic Reeling machine (imported from China) is in great demand and sold on par with Chinese imported silk rates. To improve the quality of silk reeling, the Central Silk Board, has developed multi end reeling units for production of quality silk. Large number of such units are working to-day, but unfortunately silk reeled on these machines are not getting good prices. These multi end reelers have to procure Bivoltine cocoons in the open market and the price offered by the weaver is comparatively low. It is possible to produce high quality silk on the multi end machines also with limited output. This anomaly has to be set right. Even in the imported automatic reeling machine, the silk outputs hardly 280 grams per day/per end on 2 shift basis. Power looms require uniform quality of silk for productivity.
We have a strong consumer base. In South India in all auspicious occasions irrespective of their financial condition, silk saree/dress material is a must. Silk sarees are gifted to the relatives and friends of bride and bride groom. Silk produced locally is sold without any difficulty and this is a positive note of the silk industry. The demand is increasing.
Presently mulberry silk production is done in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Bivoltine silk production is possible in the States of Maharastra, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Cocoon prices are remunerative when compared to other agricultural commodities. A proper approach by the state governments are needed to promote bivoltine sericulture, as the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India is offering various subsidies for promotion of Bivoltine cocoon production as we possess the best productive mulberry food plant varieties in the World that can, produce about 30-60 metric tons of leaves per year. Also we have well equipped R&D units for continuous improvements and adoption of innovative ideas to face the challenges. Also the experts from Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA), has trained our sericulturists in Bivoltine cocoon production.
Major revenue goes to the silk worm rearer and the balance is shared between the reeler, twister, weaver and trader. Establishing a large scale silk production unit is profitable (soil to silk). Entrepreneurs should think on these lines to make silk industry sustainable.
It is very interesting to note that in a country like Switzerland, now some farmers have formed a society to promote sericulture. Silk was there a century ago and vanished due to deadly pebrine disease. A team visited our country recently to know mulberry cultivation, silk reeling and also purchased a pilot plant for silk reeling. They are progressing very well on this direction.
Silk has a bright future: Reports indicate that the scientists are through with transferring spider gean to silk worms which 100 per cent stronger than traditional silk and half the weight of the present mulberry silk. This filament is used in medical and fabric manufacture for bullet proof jackets extensively used in defence. The future is ours. We have technology, man power and abundant land and as predicted that 21st century is ours. Let us encash the situation.
Originally Published in Textile Review, August-2011
The author is a Sericulturist & Working President, Quality Sericulture Service Club(R), Bangalore.