Sericulture: Silk Sector in India

NeW Bureau

India has long history of silk development and at present ranks second largest producer of silk in the World after China in multi-varieties of silk – mulberry, tasar, eri, and muga and is close to developing international grade silk. Though India is the second largest producer in the world after China, it accounts for just five percent of the global silk market, since the bulk of Indian silk thread and silk clothes are consumed domestically. The silk from Kashmir became so famous in the beginning of the Christian era, that a number of references to it are found in the western literature. During the medieval period, silk was patronised mainly by the royal courts, sericulture received an impetus during the 16th and 17th Century under Moghul regime. The silk trade continued to flourish in Kashmir, Bengal, Mysore and other parts of India during the medieval period

Sericulture is cottage based industry which combines both the features of agriculture and industry. Among the cottage industries, sericulture is an important welfare-oriented village-based activity. One of the special features of this industry is that of the mulberry crop, the sole source of silkworm feed can be grown under diverse environmental conditions by small and marginal farmers. Sericulture has developed in India as an agro-based cottage and rural industry with tremendous scope of contribution to the rural economy. It has had an excellent nexus in promoting agricultural and industrial interface to boost up rural economy.

Sericulture is not only a traditional, but also a living culture. It is an age old craft in India and is practiced in a vast geographically diversified areas including, temperate (Kashmir), sub-tropical (Jammu, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and North Eastern Region) and tropical (West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh). India has a good climate conditions that allows growing all the five commercial silk types such as mulberry silk, eri silk, muga silk, oak tasar silk, but maximum contribution constitutes mulberry silk. It is practiced as subsidiary from ancient times but before few decades it has gained impetus in its growth due to the fact that it is no longer confined to traditional areas but has gained employment even in non-traditional sericulture areas. India has a distinct advantage of practicing sericulture all through the year, yielding a stream of about 4-6 crops as a result of its tropical climate. The present global scenario clearly indicates the enormous opportunities for the Indian silk Industry, because India has the unique distinction of being only country producing all the five commercially traded varieties of natural silks namely Mulberry, Eri, Muga, Tropical Tasar and Temperate Tasar.

Sericulture is considered as an effective foundation for the efficient use of scarce resources. The sericulture industry is also considered as a tool for poverty alleviation as it offers various self-employment opportunities. It can save foreign exchange, and help to reduce urbanization and its related problems. It requires low investment and simple technology, but well planned infrastructure.

The reduction of rural poverty continues to be a paramount goal of the developing countries like India. Promotion of sericulture may cause multi-dimensional benefits like effective utilization of resources, meeting the local needs and exports, rural development, positive impacts on climate. The silk sector is not only a highly labor-intensive sector but also capital leveling industry, and in comparison to other agricultural goods, silk has a high value-added and requires little land area for its cultivation. It is the only cash crop in agriculture sector that gives returns within thirty days. This industry provides employment nearly to three million people in the country.  There is a great potential to develop sericulture and silk industry as an economically viable rural /urban avocation. Moreover it can even play an important role in checking migration from rural to urban areas and creating new job opportunities by providing supplemental income to unemployed population in their native places. In addition sericulture is best use of natural resources and is very environmentally friendly activity.

The British came at the time when silk trade in India was flourishing. The East India Company tried to upgrade the quality of reeled silk yam. Experts were brought from Italy to modernise rearing and reeling techniques. The exports of Indian silk got a great push as the silk industry ruined in Europe due to the outbreak of the Pebrine disease. During the last quarter of the 19th Century, Bengal silk declined as France and Italy put up a formidable competition by introducing new reeling machines. While sericulture declined in Bengal and Kashmir, Mysore tried to develop it. The healthy climatic conditions of the old Mysore State helped the industry to take firm roots. By early 20th century acreage increased and Mysore state surpassed the original silk producing states of Kashmir and Bengal. From then on there was continuous growth and development of sericulture.

The first spun silk mill was established in India under Joint stock Company in 1936 with 10 percent share by the Government. The Second World War was a period of boom for the silk industry. There was a great demand for raw silk for the manufacture of parachutes. The Government of India launched a “silk Expansion Scheme” and a conference of silk was held in 1942. The efforts of the Government gave considerable boost to the Sericulture activity in the State of Mysore. However, with the end of war, the boom enjoyed by the silk industry came to an abrupt end.

Since sericulture stands next to agriculture for rural employment in India, it becomes a matter of concern to examine the sericulture production trend over the years and reasons for slow growth. The agriculture sector has been competing with a number of factors that have limited its potential for generating new jobs in rural areas. Those factors may include the small land holding size, insufficient capital and investment incentives, the inadequate farm infrastructure, limited market and stagnant prices of agricultural products. After Independence, the industry started to flourish as an agro-industry, giving employment to over 7 million people in the Country.

Though sericulture is ideally suited for improving the rural economy of the country, as it is practiced as a subsidiary industry to agriculture, it is hindered by various factors like imports of cheap and alternative textiles from other Asian neighbors, use of outdated manufacturing technology, primitive and unscientific “reeling” and “weaving” techniques, use of poor quality seeds, low production of bivoltine seeds, use of non-graded and diseased seeds, poor knowledge of farm disease amongst farmers, poor supply chain management ,huge unorganized and decentralized sector, high production cost, recurring droughts and increased import of silk from China and accompanied with the following problems like:  price fluctuation, absence of proper market, long distance to market, lack of transport facilities, absence of storage facilities, poor information on market trend, and  lack of finance.

With the advent of economic planning in the country, silk industry made progressive development through consecutive plans. The Indian Government has constituted a statutory body, the Central Silk Board (CSB) during 1948, by an Act of Parliament (Act No.LXI of 1948) which in consultation with the sericulture departments of various silk producing states work out policies and an action plan for silk development. Silk productivity in India between 1960 and 1970 was very low, however, significant increase in productivity was observed in the eighties and nineties. CSB has implemented an ambitious silk development program called National Sericulture Projects (NSP) from 1989 with assistance from the World Bank and Swiss Development Cooperation with objectives of raising mulberry acreage, silk production and employment potential as also enlarge exports.

Central Silk Board took up the bivoltine sericulture technology development program (BSTDP: 1991- 99) in a bigger way with the cooperation Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). JICA are extending substantial aid to intensify CBS’s effort to better the conditions of the rural population, through raising the quality of silk cocoons, which fetch renumerative returns and provide part or full time employment to millions of people. The Indian sericulture industry witnessed a major breakthrough in late twentieth century with the successful evolution of high-yielding better silk quality silkworm hybrids, both bivoltine and multi voltine ones in tropical regions. Its progress on the silk front has been spectacular. During 1960-1990 raw silk production rose ten times and since then it has been growing at annually. Thus India seems to have made a quantum jump in its silk output.

Besides, Central Silk Board is popularising “Silk Mark”, for purity of silk products through the Silk Mark Organisation of India (SMOI). “Silk Mark”, an assurance label, protects the interests of the consumers from the traders selling artificial silk products in the name of pure silk.

In order to ensure that Silk Mark gains further credibility & popularity, Silk Mark Expos are being organized exclusively for Silk Mark Authorized Users from across the country. The Expo is an ideal platform not only to popularize Silk Mark but also in bringing the manufacturers and the consumers under one platform for selling and buying of pure silk products. Substantial business for the participants is generated during this event. During the event massive awareness and publicity campaigns are carried out by the SMOI.

During the year 2017-18 (from April 2017 to September 2017), in view of the sluggish market for silk products and poor response from the Authorised Users, SMOI has organised only Two Silk Mark Expo at NEDFi, Guwahati from 05th to 11th April 2017 and from 15th to 19th September-2017.

The Ministry of Textiles is extending support to the sericulture sector in the form of CSS & NERTPS. Efforts are taken for further by mobilizing additional funds through convergence, by availing the schemes being implemented by various other Ministries of Government of India.

The project namely “Empowerment of Scheduled Caste families through Sericulture under Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP)” and “Empowerment of Scheduled Tribe families through Sericulture under Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP)” are being implemented in coordination with State sericulture departments/ other implementing agencies during the year 2017-18.

During 2016-17, the total raw silk production in the country was 30,348 MT, which is an increase of 6.4% over the production achieved during the last year and around 94.8% of the annual targeted production for the year 2016-17. The mulberry silk production was 3.9% more during 2016-17 over the last year. The bivoltine raw silk production achieved a record production of 5,266 MT during 2016-17 by registering 14.2% growth over previous year. Similarly, vanya silk, which includes Tasar, Eri and Muga raw silks, has achieved 12.8% growth during 2016-17 over 2015-16. The area under mulberry during 2016-17 was up by 3.8%

The employment generation in the country is raised to 8.51 million persons in 2016-17 compared to 8.25 million persons in 2015-16, indicating a growth of 3.15%.

India has been able to make bold strides in silk development due to its organised economic planning. Over the last six decades Indian silk industry has registered an impressive growth. Plans and schemes implemented by central and state agencies and relentless efforts of thousands of dedicated persons in the fields of research and extension have helped in this context. The Indian silk goods are being exported to the traditional major markets like the USA and European countries and small markets of Asia Region. Being a natural product and relatively rare enables silk to maintain its value, however it must also have characteristics that create a demand.   Sericulture will gradually take Indian raw silk closer to international standards.

The national and international demand of silk is growing very fast. Therefore there is great scope to increase our silk production to earn foreign exchange. Though attempts were made to introduce sericulture in many states in a big way through different projects, sericulture production is still limited to the traditional silk producing states. In order to promote the production and export of silk, there is need to reorient the policy initiatives for production, export, tax structures and subsidies; a comprehensive study on the silk has become imperative.

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