Cocoon production in Karnataka had taken a back seat few years ago and now sericulturists, particularly small and marginal farmers are coming back to this avocation again, as the prices for both multivoltine and bivoltine cocoons are reasonably good. Also the state government is offering a bonus of Rs.1 0.00 and Rs.40.00 per kilo gram respectively as incentive to promote cocoon production. State is facing acute drought and rural areas are facing electric power cut. Most of the tube wells are dry. Large scale cocoon growers are facing man power shortage. Rural folk have migrated to urban areas for a bowl of food and glamorous city life style. Unfortunately, most of the cocoons producing areas are located in the close proximity of Bangalore and Mysore. Earlier these cities were called as "Pensioners' paradise" and garden cities... Today it is a garbage city and the cost of living is prohibitive, may be highest in the country.

 

India is the second largest producer of mulberry silk distance far away from China. It is estimated that China produces about 80 to 90,000 metric tons of bivoltine silk whereas India's production is hardly about 1 6,000 metric tons (more than 90 per cent is multivoltine). Uninterrupted arrival of silk from China had a cascading effect on our silk industry. To curb this, anti-dumping duty was levied for silk yarn and this action has improved the local silk industry. Now it is understood the present Export-Import Policy of Government of India on Silk (Advanced licensing) has an adverse effect on our Silk Fabric exporters. This anomaly has to be set right. All our fabric exporters need bivoltine silk. In spite of various schemes launched by the Central Silk Board and the state governments for increasing bivoltine silk production, still we are unable to produce the requirement of our silk exporters. The estimated requirement of bivoltine silk is about 15,000 metric tons and our production is less than 10 per cent of the total production. Consequently, our silk exporters are depending silk from China.

 

In China cocoon production is undertaken by small farmers and the conversion is done by automatic silk reeling units on large scale thus ensuring uniform quality. Majority of our cocoon production is done by small and marginal farmers (rearing 50 to 100 DFL) by the family members not depending upon outside labour. On account of good price, this is remunerative today and encouraged by this price benefit, more families are eager to take up this avocation in spite of various negative aspects. This is a positive note of the industry and the authorities should take this opportunity to turn our cocoon growers to take up bivoltine cocoon production by offering region wise/season wise races, disinfection etc., by the department and periodical extension programmes. The cocoon marketing is really fantastic in Karnataka with transparency, which is an added attraction to the growers and payment system. The proceeds of the sale are available to the grower immediately. This was the foresight of the then Director of Sericulture, Karnataka, who had prepared a detailed project report while availing World Bank loan, which was implemented very successfully and our farmers' gracefully remembers this.

The recent reports emanating from China indicates a policyshift 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 India. Also weather is not favorable throughout the year in China. In our country weather is favorable throughout the year in the traditional mulberry silk producing states and the present Chinese scenario is a good chance for us to cash the potential demand for world silk.


Our multi end silk reeling units are capable of producing fine grade silk of 2A and above even with our multivoltine cocoons. Another major plus point of the industry is that all the silk produced is sold without any difficulty. Silk reeling units need large number of man power. The main constrain for these reeling units are working capital. The banks are not financing these units scientifically. Also the entrepreneurs have misused the working capital limits for other purposes and hence the banks are not forthcoming with sufficient funds. This lacuna has to be set right by proper education, as most of these units are managed by illiterates and minority communities. Automatic reeling units have been installed and more number of units are expected in the coming days, as both the State government and Central Silk Board are offering various subsidies to boost silk production during the 12th Plan period. Keeping this mind, our cocoon production should be planned or otherwise, the newly established units will become sick, due to scarcity of raw material. This has to be done on war footing.


The present price of Chinese silk is around US $ 54 to 55 per kilo and the present rate of exchange is around Rs.54.00 per dollar. Consequently the selling price is around Rs.3200.00 per kilo. The average price of good multivoltine cocoon in Karnataka is around Rs.300.00 per kilo and about 7 kilos of cocoon will give one kilo of raw silk which is priced today around Rs. 2800.00/Kg.


We have a strong consumer base. In South India, in all auspicious occasions irrespective of their financial status, silk sarees/dress material is a must. Silk sarees are gifted to the relatives and friends of bride and bridegroom. Silk produced locally is sold without any difficulty and this is a positive note of the silk industry. Purchasing power has also increased and hence this demand.


The main and vital link between the cocoon grower and weaver is the silk reeler. Unfortunately, today silk reelers are not getting sufficient margin, as this reeling is managed by entrepreneurs who do not calculate investment on plant and machinery, land, interest, depreciation, opportunity cost and return on investment. If they add all these overheads on the end product, imported Chinese silk will be cheaper and our sericulture will vanish. Every stake holder should get reasonable margin for sustainability of the industry otherwise the missing link will cause severe damage to the trade. Perhaps only in our country hand loom and these cottage-silk reeling units exists and the governments should strengthen the hands of these entrepreneurs by offering various facilities, as millions of people are depending on this avocation in rural India.

 

Our traditional dress material needs only multivoltine silk as it has a special luster, colour absorption etc., compared to Bivoltine silk. It is 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. More details can be had from their website www.swisssilk.


Silk has a bright future too. Reports indicate that scientists are through with transferring spider gean to silk worms which is 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 defense. This technology is developed by a US firm and more details can be had from www.entogeneticsine. They have also visited our country and gathered all information.


The future is ours. We have technology and needs only fine tuning. A proper coordination between the sericultural states and the Central Silk Board is necessary to boost the production.


This article was originally published in the Textile Review magazine, May, 2013 issue, published by Saket Projects Limited, Ahmedabad.


About the Author:


Bhavanishankar is a Sericulturist belonging to the city of Bangalore.