Sericulture, or silk farming, is the cultivation of silkworms to produce silk. Although there are several commercial species of silkworms, Bombyx mori (the caterpillar of the domesticated silk moth) is the most widely used and intensively studied silkworm. Silk was believed to have first produced in China as early as the Neolithic period, but recent evidence suggests that it was circulating more than 2000 years earlier.
Sericulture has become an important cottage industry in countries such as Brazil, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, and Russia. Today, China and India are the two main producers, with more than 60% of the world’s annual production.
SILK WORM – TYPES
There are five major types of silk of commercial importance, obtained from different species of silkworms which in turn feed on a number of food plants: Except mulberry, other varieties of silks are generally termed as non-mulberry silks. India has the unique distinction of producing all these commercial varieties of silk.
The bulk of the commercial silk produced in the world comes from this variety and often silk generally refers to mulberry silk. Mulberry silk comes from the silkworm, Bombyx mori L. which solely feeds on the leaves of mulberry plant.
These silkworms are completely domesticated and reared indoors. In India, the major mulberry silk producing states are Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Jammu & Kashmir which together accounts for 92 % of country’s total mulberry raw silk production
Tasar (Tussah) is copperish colour, coarse silk mainly used for furnishings and interiors. It is less lustrous than mulberry silk, but has its own feel and appeal. Tasar silk is generated by the silkworm, Antheraea mylitta which mainly thrive on the food plants Asan and Arjun. The rearings are conducted in nature on the trees in the open. In India, tasar silk is mainly produced in the states of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa, besides Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Tasar culture is the main stay for many a tribal community in India.
It is a finer variety of tasar generated by the silkworm, Antheraea proyeli J. in India which feed on natural food plants of oak, found in abundance in the sub-Himalayan belt of India covering the states of Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya and Jammu & Kashmir. China is the major producer of oak tasar in the world and this comes from another silkworm which is known as Antheraea pernyi.
Also known as Endi or Errandi, Eri is a multivoltine silk spun from open-ended cocoons, unlike other varieties of silk. Eri silk is the product of the domesticated silkworm, Philosamia ricini that feeds mainly on castor leaves. In India, this culture is practiced mainly in the north-eastern states and Assam. It is also found in Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa
This golden yellow colour silk is prerogative of India and the pride of Assam state. It is obtained from semi-domesticated multivoltine silkworm, Antheraea assamensis. These silkworms feed on the aromatic leaves of Som and Soalu plants and are reared on trees similar to that of tasar. Muga culture is specific to the state of Assam and an integral part of the tradition and culture of that state. The muga silk, an high value product is used in products like sarees, mekhalas, chaddars, etc.
Stages of production
The stages of production are as follows:
1)The silk moth lays thousands of eggs.
2)The silk moth eggs hatch to form larvae or caterpillars, known as silkworms.
3)The larvae feed on mulberry leaves.
Having grown and moulted several times, the silkworm extrudes a silk fiber and forms a net to hold itself.
4)It swings its head from side to side in a figure ‘8’ distributing the saliva that will form silk.
5)The silk solidifies when it contacts the air.
6)The silkworm spins approximately one mile of filament and completely encloses itself in a cocoon in about two or three days. The amount of usable quality silk in each cocoon is small. As a result, about 2500 silkworms are required to produce a pound of raw silk.
7)The intact cocoons are boiled, killing the silkworm pupa.
8)The silk is obtained by brushing the undamaged cocoon to find the outside end of the filament.
9)The silk filaments are then wound on a reel. One cocoon contains approximately 1,000 yards of silk filament. The silk at this stage is known as raw silk. One thread comprises up to 48 individual silk filaments.
Silk production in India
India has the unique distinction of being the only country producing all the five known commercial silks, namely, mulberry, tropical tasar, oak tasar, eri and muga, of which muga with its golden yellow glitter is unique and prerogative of India.
India is the second largest producer of silk in the world. Among the four varieties of silk produced in 2015-16, Mulberry accounts for 71.8% Tasar 9.9% Eri 17.8% and Muga 0.6% of the total raw silk production of 28,472 MT.
The demand for superior quality bivoltine silk is increasing in India for domestic consumption as well as value added silk products for the export market. The Ministry of Textiles Government of India and Departments of Sericulture in various states provide technical and financial assistance for enhancing the bivoltine silk production.
Policy initiatives recently taken for the development of silk industry.
Sericulture is the functional area under the Ministry of Textiles. Some of the recent policy initiatives taken by the Ministry to promote sericulture are as follows:
1. Sericulture is included as agriculture allied activity under RKVY. This enables the sericulturists to avail the benefits of the scheme for the entire sericulture activities up to reeling.
2. The CSB (Amendment) Act, Rules and Regulations have been notified by the Govt. of India to bring quality standards in silkworm seed production.
Forest Conservation Act has been amended to treat non mulberry sericulture as forest based activity enabling the farmers to undertake Vanya silkworm rearing in the natural host plantation in the forests.
3. CDP-MGMREGA convergence guideline have been finalized and issued jointly by the MOT and MORD. These guidelines will help sericulture farmers to avail assistance from MGNREGA scheme.
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