KATHMANDU: Nepali silk production is waning as farmers are forsaking seri-culture for vegetable farming. Even with the potential to be
a major contributor to the national economy, the fate of the silk industry hangs on a thin thread due to lack of vision, adequate
attention, policies and imp-lementation measures.
Downward debacle Due to lack of motivation, effective policies and appropriate marketing mechanism, farmers practicing sericulture are switching to vegetable farming. “Although the annual demand for silk thread in the domestic market is roughly around 200 tonnes, only one-and-half tonnes is produced within the country,” says Shankar Prasad Pandey, president of Silk Association of Nepal (SAN). The figure is in sharp contrast to the situation until four years ago when Nepal used to produce 38 metric tonnes of silk cocoons. The production dwindled to around 26 metric tonnes in the fiscal year 2011-12, according to Jagadish Bhakta Shrestha, program-me director at Directorate
of Industrial Entomology Development (DOIED).
Silk farming in Nepal reportedly started some three decades ago. Several districts including Ilam, Dhading, Nuwakot, Kavre, Syangja and Chitwan are known for silkworm rearing. However, owing to immediate and tangible returns, farmers in these districts, which are well connected through highways, are turning to vegetable farming.
While Dhading had some 13 professional farmers dedicated to sericulture, the number now stands at around six, according to Narayan
Adhikari, a young farmer at Baireni VDC of Dhading, who opted for sericulture following in the footsteps of his father. He is also involved in commercial extraction of silk threads from dry cocoon using spinning wheels.
The two state-owned cocoon processing plants — in Kavre and Sunsari districts — are lying idle because they lack adequate cocoons. The plant in Khopasi of Kavre has the processing capacity of about 50,000 metric tonnes of cocoons per year, while the capacity of the other plant is even higher, according to concerned officials. The government is now minimally involved in the buying and processing of green
cocoons, which is done by the private sector.
Although Nepal produces cocoons of international standard, the silk threads are not as good in the absence of quality processing tools, according to Kamal Raj Bista, managing director of Shangrila Silk and Pashmina Pvt Ltd. “Initially my factory used domestic silk thread for Pashmina, but we ran into problems as required quantity could not be availed and the supply was erratic,” says Bista, who is also a life
member of SAN. Silk is an important ingredient in manufacturing pashmina, garments and carpets and factories mostly rely on
imports for the same. According to a record maintained by Trade and Export Promotion Centre, the country imported silk worth over Rs 340 million in the fiscal year 2010-11.
Hence, the consumption of domestic silk is limited to a handful of handicraft workshops that produce shawls, caps, coats, handkerchiefs,
et cetera. Since the import
volume is extremely high and the domestic production is low, it is unlikely that the trade of silk would shrink, according to Shrestha. Given the declining production and farmers moving away from sericulture, Bista is not optimistic. “Nepali silk has no future,” he says.
Gaping gapsApart from sericulture, DOIED also promotes mushroom farming and bee keeping. Unlike the other two sectors, DOIED has nine centres in different parts of the country meant for the promotion of sericulture and the farmers involved in sericulture are entitled to subsidies and logistic support. While bee keeping and mushroom farming have appeased the hearts of farmers, seri-
culture has failed to have a similar kind of attraction.
Mulberry saplings, which are grown to feed silkworms, alone take one-and-half months to ripen, whereas vegetables can be harvested between three to four months. Besides, farmers attuned to traditional mode of farming find the idea of sericulture absurd. Adhikari shares, “People often say, ‘A cow or a buffalo provides milk. What is the use of rearing insects?’”
Apparently the government programme has failed to promote sericulture among farmers. “Sericulture has a history of hundreds of years in India and China. This is a novel idea in our country and it takes time for people to understand and embrace this kind of farming,” says Shrestha.
Mohini Maharjan, a promoter of Nepali silk, thinks that the government has also not done enough in terms of motivating farmers and implementing its programmes. Donor funded government programmes actually corrupted farmers, according to Maharjan. “During trainings, farmers demand allowance money rather than spinning wheels through which they could execute their skills into practice,” says Maharjan. However, according to Shrestha, no donor agency has been involved in sericulture since last year.
Maharjan has additional complaints. The support and logistics provided are neither handy nor helpful, she says, adding that farmers are compelled to sell green cocoons they harvest to the private sector or the government due to lack of dryers. “If they could produce thread themselves and sell, that would fetch them more money and would also fill them with the sense of empowerment,” says Maharjan, stressing that the government, rather than providing perfunctory support, needed to extend genuine help in key areas.
Pandey opines that the government needs to develop large pocket areas in seri-culture for a long period.
“The government has not prioritised or promoted sericulture,” asserts Maharjan, adding that the government, in cooperation with the
private sector, should come up with clear and strong policies to encourage existing farmers and attract new cultivators into sericulture.
Optimistic outlookDemand for luxurious commodities woven out of the natural fibre keeps on rising in the domestic and inter-
national market. Favoured by its climate and geography, sericulture, which can be practiced in temperatures ranging from 22 degree
Celsius to around 30 degree Celsius, bears huge prospects for Nepal. The cash crop is far ahead of other crops of its kind. In the current market, green cocoon sells at Rs 375 per kilogram and a kilogram of silk thread fetches Rs 2,800 to Rs 7,000, depending upon the quality of cocoons, Adhikari informs.Silk worm rearing through mulberry plantation in around nine ropanies of land fetches a handsome amount of around Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 in a single harvest and cocoons can be harvested three to four times a year in Nepal, determined by the
geographical location of the country. “People think sericulture is labour intensive but it is, in fact, easier than land tilling,” says Adhikari.
Sericulture, if practiced in remote areas, could even reduce the incidences of displacement. Large scale silk farming by utilising waste land would not only generate employment, but also contribute significantly to the national GDP.
“Sericulture was introduced as an income gene-rating crop with mulberry plantation in marginal land. Now, the government is gearing up to harness the emerging industrial potential of the crop,” says Shrestha. He also informs that farmers in Ilam have renewed interest in sericulture and that locals have already planted mulberry saplings in a community forest. The government is also introducing
hybrid silkworm, which are more friendly and productive in Nepali soil.