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Monday, August 24, 1998

Sericulture on a comeback trail in Kerala 

Shyama Rajagopal  
August 23: Sericulture is trying to make a comeback in Kerala with the government giving a major thrust to cocoon production.

An elaborate plan to organise the post-cocoon sector in the Ninth five- year plan has been chalked out and according to senior officials at the Kerala State Sericulture Cooperative Federation Ltd (Serifed), the silk industry in the state would be recharged at a cost Rs 130 crore.

An integrated project,`soil-to-silk' has begun with an outlay of Rs 35 crore, to be utilised mostly for the pre-cocoon sector. The officials say that by December this year, the post-cocoon plan would be at the implementation stage.

The plan aims to achieve a production of 203.13 tonnes of raw silk at the end of five years. To achieve this target the mulberry cultivation, which is the main source of feed for silkworms, has to be increased to 12,500 acres. The rearing capacity is targeted at 52 lakh DFLs (disease free layings) -- where 1 DFL is equal to 400-450 eggs by a moth. The cocoon production target is set at 2,200 tonnes.

Serifed has drawn up the plan to establish forward linkages in the post cocoon sector, like twisting, yarn processing, weaving and silk marketing to add economic strength to the sericulture industry. There are two reeling units in the state - one at Pattanakkad in Alappuzha district and the other at Uduma in Kasargod district. These two centres have a total capacity of reeling 200 ends up to March 1998.

According to Serifed estimates a viable yield should be around 45 kg of silk per 100 DFLs. But there are farmers who have got 60 kg too, said an official. Serifed also gives a support price of Rs 100 per kg for the cocoons.

Serifed officials say the cultivation should be started with a minimum of 25 cents of land, though it would be better to have 50 cents or one acre. Once the mulberry cuttings are grown, which might take about an year or so, the silkworm rearings would start giving a harvest every month. The minimum a farmer can make a month is Rs 2000. The official said that farmers can fetch Rs 6000 a month too depending upon the quality of the silk. It is not a labour intensive farming but for the period when the worm is at its forth and fifth phase of molting. After this phase the worm starts spinning which gets ready in three days. At this stage the cocoons are harvested.

The official said sericulture would be successful only if farmers did not crowd the mulberry cultivation and worm rearing. The quantity and quality of the leaf would be determined by the cultivation practice. The space between two mulberry plantings (3 ft x 3 ft), depth of ploughing (40 cm) etc would count on the leaf production. The need of the silkworms is one cent per DFL.

There are 4424 farmers registered with Serifed till end of March 1998 who are cultivating 2910.68 acres. The number of farmers and the area under mulberry cultivation has increased from the previous year by over 248 per cent and 324 per cent respectively. In the earlier sericulture project, which was started in 1988-89 by the government of Kerala under khadi and village industries, about 10,000 farmers took up silkworm farming. The project had peaked during 1991-92 when the mulberry cultivation was under 8000 acres and the production of silk was 64 tonnes.

Since then there was a subsequent decline because of large-scale import of silk into the country. In Kerala the silk industry was existing purely on higher silk prices. The production cost was higher than the neighbouring states. When the silk prices crashed, the Kerala silk industry went into a tailspin. There was no organised market for cocoon and there were no adequate forward linkages.

Serifed, which came into existence in 1994, has organised a cocoon market. The cocoons have an assured market. In the post cocoon sector, the apex cooperative society has plans to impart training in silk weaving in technical collaboration with the Central Silk Board. The weavers from the powerlooms and handloom sectors would be taken or some of the existing looms would be converted to silk looms. With a plethora of subsidy schemes at different stages of pre and post cocoon production, the farmers would not be reluctant to take up mulberry farming the second time. Only those farmers are eligible for subsidy who undergo training conducted by Serifed.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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