Making sericulture a self-sustaining enterprise in J&K

Kulbir Singh
Sericulture has two parts one is the agricultural related farming part in which rearing of silkworms is carried by farmers indoor by feeding the silkworms with mulberry leaves which is the sole food for silkworm. Farmers go for planting of Mulberry Plants in and around their vicinity to get mulberry leaves. The cocoons so produced by the farmers are then processed by the Industrial units called reeling units to convert them into raw silk and then it is further processed by other interrelated units like twisting units, dying units, etc, and after passing through various stages of processing in different industrial units the fabric in the form of sarees, dupattas chiffons, ties, scarves reaches to the consumer in the high fashion malls and showrooms as a very costly item. But the basic producer of this elite class product i.e., a farmer is still struggling to meet his ends, still not aware of all this profit sharing economic ratio.
Sericulture Industry of the State has been a very old traditional Industry. Just like China Mulberry tree was worshiped with great reverence by the people of Kashmir as it is seen from the gold coins from the time of king Kanashka, who ruled over Kashmir during 58 BC when there was silk trade between Rome and Kashmir. During the reign of Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen (popularly known as Budshah), Silk Industry in Kashmir was regarded as very important industry of the State. In view of its importance, the great Mugal emperor, Akbar, made a treaty with Yousuf Shah (King of Kashmir) wherein sericulture was controlled directly from Delhi. However, during its long history, the industry passed through many ups and downs and historical records reveal that during fifties of last century, when the Silk Industry in France and Italy was entirely ruined by outbreak of dreadful pebrine disease, a delegation of Sericulturists headed by Capt. Hutton reached Kashmir in search of silkworm eggs to rejuvenate the silk industry in France and about 25,000 ounces of disease free silkworm eggs of the indigenous “Kashmir Race” were exported to Europe. The real organization of the industry started after the president of British Silk Association, Sir Thomas Warlde, submitted a report to the Government in 1890 expressing that Kashmir, owing to its climate, could be a great silk production area in the world. Being highly convinced with the report, creation of Sericulture Department took place under monopolistic control of British Govt. and Mr. Warlton was appointed as the first Director of Sericulture in 1894. Later, in 1909, the Silk industry was established in Jammu province. In view of promoting commercial interests of British and revenue interest of Maharaja an enactment “Kashmir Silk Protection Act 1964, (1907) was enforced in the State and the Silk Industry was declared a State monopoly and possession of silkworms and eggs as well as independent sale of cocoons was prohibited.
In the initial years, the cocoons so obtained were taken to England for reeling of silk and weaving fabric. However, later on, 10 filatures were set up in Srinagar from 1916 to 1920 and bales of raw silk were exported to England (Manchester) for weaving into fabrics. In 1934, first Silk weaving factory was established at Raj Bagh Srinagar to facilitate the process of weaving. To promote Silk Industry a very good infrastructure including number of Mulberry Nurseries, Silkworm Seed Stations were established in the State in early years and by 1940s and 1950s about 55000 families were directly associated with Sericulture with cocoon production at 1500 MT. The residents of colonies like Resham ghar in Jammu and Solina in Srinagar are witness to the working of Govt. Silk factories popularly called Resham Khana in those days where large workforce was engaged and almost every household had their forefathers working in the factory.
Till 1988, Silk industry in J&K was a Govt. monopoly and Silk Filatures of the Jammu & Kashmir Industries Limited (A Government Undertaking) used to be the sole purchaser/consumer of the entire cocoon produced in the State and the Industry was demonopolized in 1989 and reeling of cocoons was left open to private sector.
Although India being second largest producer of silk in the world, the quality Bivoltine (BV) Silk production which is 5800 MT (2017-18) at present has been one of the priority sectors of our Indian Silk Industry and still a challenge to beat China which is the world leader as the requirements of the Industry are presently met by imported Silk Yarn from China.
Our State which presently accounts for just 2.5% of the national production though having enormous potential to produce quality BV Silk of International grade can contribute significantly in national Silk production as the demand for silk consumption is scaling high for getting the quality silk for use in handlooms/ power loom sector and export oriented units having automatic ‘state-of-the-art’ weaving machineries. To reach that level, it is imperative to look into the present situation of the Industry viz-a viz its future requirements.
In our State, Sericulture is basically a subsidiary source of income which is practiced by about 30000 families in all the Districts except Ladakh Division. Majority of these families belong to economically weaker section of the society such as schedule castes, Schedule tribes, landless farmers and other low income rural people with majority of women folk . Udhampur, Kathua, Rajouri, Anantnag, Pulwama, Bandipora and Kupwara, , are the major Cocoon producing Districts. The State presently produces about 800 MT of cocoons with income generation of about Rs 25.00 crore under its pre cocoon sector and about Rs 200.00 crores under post cocoon sector through value additions in silken fabric/products sales like pure Silk sarees/chiffons, chinon, taby, dupion, and silken carpets, ties, scarves, pillow covers, curtains etc., .
The development of the Sericulture is mandated to the Sericulture Development Department under administrative control of Agriculture Production Department.
Sericulture Development Department however needs much needed support to sustain and develop this heritage Industry and to make J&K a leading Bi-voltine Silk producing State in the country and restore its glorious past status.
Issues of Concern: The Sericulture development needs interventions of Govt. : A complete and comprehensive approach is needed so that all critical issues in both Pre- and Post Cocoon sectors are addressed simultaneously. There has to be a complete value chain from leaf production to cocoon fabric and garment production. A viable support system with technology interventions for each sector has to be created and executed as all sectors are interrelated. Emphasis on both horizontal and vertical expansion is needed. In order to realize the vision and transform Sericulture and Silk industry into a Profitable, & Sustainable Enterprise, the following issues under pre/post/human resource development need to be addressed by all Stakeholders with State Govt. to treat it as a priority sector otherwise the Industry will die a silent death and we will miss the opportunity.
Suggestions for revival of the Industry immediately needed:
* Up gradation of Departmental Nurseries/ farms to improve Mulberry saplings /leaf production
* Cocoon and Silk yarn marketing support system to the local Reelers with Increase in Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Cocoons and Silk yarn:
* Enhancement in Cocoon Bank Revolving fund
* Infrastructure development at Farmers’ level
* Popularizing Multi cropping and green marketing
* Incentive on cocoon and silk production to farmers/reelers
* Infrastructure development/up gradation support
* Introduction of cocoon crop insurance scheme
* Dovetailing with rural development department for development in sericulture sector under convergence plan
* Development of Integrated Silk parks
* Silk Branding push
* Private Sector Involvement
* R&D from Research Institutes with Skill developments through capacity buildings
* Human Resource Development of the Department with Reorganization of the Sericulture Department .
Sericulture has a huge socio economic impact and has the potential to transform the lives of people by providing viable and sustainable employment opportunities. As It involves a number of processes right from mulberry plantation through silkworm rearing, reeling, weaving and marketing and thus engaging large number of people including women. Once promoted on a larger scale with value addition, sericulture has the potential to provide gainful employment to about 10 Lac people of the state. Sericulture activities are village based and hence prevent migration from rural to urban areas in search of jobs. Sericulture perfectly aligns with the National Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals of UN and will help in poverty alleviation and inclusive growth as envisaged by our country.
Sericulture is eco – friendly with no use of pesticides. Silk is a natural fiber. Mulberry plantations acts as a carbon sinks and mitigates effects of global warming/climate change. Therefore practicing sericulture will prevent environmental degradation in the state which is having a unique natural ecosystem.
The suggested initiatives are important to make sericulture a self-sustaining and viable enterprise.