Sericulture for stimulating rural employment, industrial growth


Ethiopia is best known in agriculture. Its over all climate is also conducive to expand sericulture as a major agro-industry. Moreover factors of production like land, labour and skills is forefront for economic development. Sericulture is most suitable for countries or regions having low labour costs, as it is labour-intensive and provides occupation in rural and semi urban areas. The uninterrupted supply of labour force in the country gives an immense opportunity for the development of sericulture and silk industries.

Sericulture will contribute to the growth of a large number of silk industries around the country. The development of industrial sector also contributes to the expansion of employment, output, export and entrepreneurship and in turn help fulfill the socio-economic objectives of the nation. Sericulture industry will also help balance the regional development especially in rural, semi-urban and backward areas in Ethiopia. It is an agro-based industry; it involves the growing food plants for silkworm and harvesting cocoons, reeling and spinning of cocoon for production of yarn etc. Which will later be value added with various processing and weaving. Sericulture also involves improvement of silk yarn, fabric and generating profitable income for rural poor people.

Ethiopia is exporting coffee, and tea products. Sericulture or ready silk has more demand not only in domestic market but also internationally it has a huge demand. Thus, it will a significant economic value and fosters international trade. Agriculture in East Africa is mainly for subsistence. However horticultural products, such as flowers and ornamental plants, and vegetables, have rapidly increased in recent years as non-traditional export products. Expectations are also high for sericulture as a new non-traditional export product to grow fast and contribute to the improvement of income of small-scale farmers.

JAICAF, 2007 reported that sericulture industry is contributing to the economy of 11 countries in East Africa that include Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Somalia and Tanzania, and Uganda. Among these countries, production of cocoons and silk thread from silkworms occurs in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, and Uganda. Sericulture is an important labour-intensive and agro-based cottage industry. It is mostly a village-based industry providing millions of jobs to rural and semi urban people. For instance, it is providing gainful occupation to around 7.25 million persons in rural and semi urban areas in India. Of these, a sizeable number of workers belong to the economically weaker sections of society. There is substantial involvement of women in this industry.

Silk has a huge demand in western countries. The highest demand is from USA, UK, Italy , UAE, German & Spain. Many silk products are not only in the domestic market but in global markets too.

Sericulture is considered as a subsidiary occupation, even though silk industry can generate employment opportunities to a large section of the society. Sericulture and silk production are labour-intensive at the village level, employing both men and women at all stages of production. In_China, it is undertaken by some 20 million farmers, as well as 500,000 people in the silk processing industry. In India, sericulture is a cottage industry in 59,000 villages, providing full and part-time employment to some six million people from the farm sector, and silk processing industry.

TheWorld Bank estimates that more than 70 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas. It not exception to Ethiopia, more than 70 per cent of populous are in rural and semi urban areas in Ethiopia. So far, various strategies have been pursued to address this concern and among the major ones is rural employment creation. The agriculture sector, however, has been contending 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. It is therefore necessary to focus on a broader spectrum of the rural economy. The establishment of rural based industries like sericulture, in particular, can be very effective in creating new job opportunities and providing supplemental income. Being a rural agro-based labour intensive industry this sector can also play vibrant role in checking migration from rural to urban areas.

Silk has due importance for developing economies primarily because of its contribution to socio economic development. The development of sericulture has become increasingly popular in various countries. Evidences suggest that sericulture has significant importance for socio-economic development. Studies have shown that the sector makes contribution to large scale employment and high income generation. A study conducted in 1998, showed that every acre of sericulture practiced under irrigated conditions had a potential to employ 247 men and 193 women round the year. Studies have further shown that the small scale mulberry farms provided ample opportunities for employment and a potential to solve the problem of seasonal unemployment. Indoor silkworm rearing women participation was as high as 94.67 per cent and that except for the peak period the entire sericulture activity is conducted using family labour. Most of the activities in silk production are informal and menial in nature. Considering the price spread in the whole industry, studies show that 48 of it goes to farming sector.

Sericulture involves both art and science in raising silkworms for silk production. Silk as a weavable fiber was first discovered by the Chinese empress Xi Ling Shi during 2,640 B.C. and its culture and weaving was a guarded secret for more than 2,500 years by the Chinese. Since then Silk has been a profitable trade commodity in China. According to evidences traders from ancient Persia used to bring richly colored and fine textured silks from Chinese merchants through hazardous routes interspersed with dangerous mountainous terrains, difficult passes, dry deserts and thick forests. Though, commodities like amber, glass, spices and tea were also traded along with silk which indeed rapidly became one of the principal elements of the Chinese economy and hence, the trade route got the name ‘SILK ROUTE’. Even today, silk reigns supreme as an object of desire and fabric of high fashion. Being a rural based industry, the production and weaving of silk are largely carried out by relatively poor sections of the society and this aspect of sericulture has made it popular and sustainable in countries like China and India.

Raw silk is of two kinds, namely mulberry and non-mulberry. The distinction arises from the rearing of silk worms either upon mulberry leaves or on other plants. Mulberry sericulture is almost entirely dependent on cultivated plants while vanya sericulture is largely dependent upon forest trees and block plantation. As forest plantation is usually a mixture of the silkworm host plants as well as other plants, it is difficult to clearly indicate the extent of food plants. Considering the vast area of forest plantation, the production of vanya silks largely depends upon the availability of silkworm seed.

Silk industry has provided economic support to many people across the world. Traditionally certain silk patterns and styles are associated with courtship, engagement, marriage, birth, and death. Sericulture industry has a history of over 2000 years and one can still see old silk cloths in museum. However, agricultural history is unknown. At present, the major sericulture producing countries are China, India and Brazil in that order.

In Africa, two types of silkworm are being utilized. That is Mulberry silkworms by Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, & Madagascar and another groups are wild silk moths.

Technically the process of sericulture is based on the availability of mulberry leaf and should be ensured before the introduction of the silk worm moth to the project site. Rearing of larvae is not possible unless the feed is readily available in the farm. Hence, planting of mulberry should be carried out before six months from the time of introducing the mulberry moths in order to get adequate leaves for feeding the larvae. The moths will be kept in the multiplication room and will lay eggs. Each moth will lay an average of about 400 eggs. The eggs will hatch into larva after 8-10 days. The larvae will go through different molting stages till it is fully matured and ready to pass into the pupa stage where it will spin silk on itself. The silk worm completes spinning from 48 -72 hours. After this the cocoons will be picked and sun dried to kill the pupa before it breaks out and completes its metamorphoses. Then after, the cocoon will be stored and will be ready for sale. Silk production is totally environmentally friendly business as there is no waste produced by the silk worms.

JAICAF, 2007 reported the East Africa faces the Indian Ocean and is mostly comprised of wet savanna. The cultivated area in East Africa is approximately 19 per cent of all of the sub-Sahara, which has approximately 0.4ha. arable acreage per person. However, the average in East Africa is said to be much lower than the average in all sub-Sahara. In recent years, Africa as a whole has been experiencing increased land pressure due to population growth, and unlike global trends, grain production per person has decreased. Also, human population pressure has led to agricultural land expansion through deforestation, hastening global warming.

In Ethiopia sericulture is at its infancy. However, experts agree that there is a good chance for the sector to grow in Ethiopia and hence stimulate rural employment and economy.



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