(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer)
Labourers sort Mulberry cocoons for processing inside a silk factory at Solina Srinagar | PTI file photo
Srinagar- The Kashmir Valley has witnessed a sharp decline in cocoon production meant for silk fabric used in shawls, carpets, embroidery curtains and other local handlooms products, data available with Kashmir Observer suggests.
Kashmir is known for the best quality silk, exported all over the world. Over 27000 families in Jammu and Kashmir are associated with silk worm rearing, out of which 8,900 families are from the Valley and rest from Jammu division.
According to official figures, the Valley produced 893 metric tons (MT) of cocoons in the year 2017-2018 generating an income of about Rs 22.337 crore for these silkworm rearers. In the following fiscal year, the cocoon production went down by 101 metric tons generating revenue of Rs 23.486 crore.
In the year 2019-20, the production rose slightly, however the revenue generated was recorded at just Rs 17.845 crore.
In the pandemic year of 2020-21, the production witnessed a sharp dip with farmers producing just 563 MT of cocoons and generating only Rs 12.183 crore.
During the fiscal year of 2021-22, the Valley witnessed 694 MT of cocoons and generated an amount of Rs 17.185 crore.
The data further suggested that there is also a decline in the number of farmers associated with silk worm rearing. During the fiscal year of 2017-18, over 27,181 farmers were associated with cocoon rearing. However, the numbers of farmers went down to 25,218 in the year 2018-19.
The figures further witnessed a sharp dip in 2019-20 with over a thousand giving up the job. During the pandemic, the trade was severely hit, like other business sectors and only 22,597 farmers remained associated with the trade. However, in 2021-22, more and more farmers again started cultivating the cocoons and the figures of people associated with the trade rose to 25,624.
The cocoon farmers said that they lack skills for quality cocoon rearing.“Also, the mulberry leaves are being damaged by the insects and pests, as a result the farmers are unable to produce more cocoons,” Yayat Khan, a farmer from North Kashmir's Baramulla told Kashmir Observer.
He further said the farmers don't have skills to produce quality cocoons in the Valley and that the Sericulture department needs to hold different workshops and awareness camps.
The experts attribute several factors for the decrease in production of cocoon cultivation in the UT.
Dr. Firdous Ahmad Malik, Assistant Professor at Sericulture college, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST-K) told Kashmir Observer that shortage of quality mulberry leaves, less technical guidance required for farmers, less hybrid breed of silk worms are the main reasons for the decline in cocoon production, thus leading to less silk production.
“The cocoon productivity is of course less. The government needs to take immediate steps to address these issues, so that the silk industry will flourish,” Dr. Malik said.
He further maintained that the Sericulture department needs to avoid procuring silkworm seeds from the other states and rather focus on procuring it within the Union Territory.
“For that, the farmers need to be trained and it needs immediate scientific intervention,” he added.
Manzoor Ahmad Qadri, Director, Sericulture told Kashmir Observer that the mulberry trees were slaughtered by the people since the inception of militancy during early 1990s.
“There was enough plantation of mulberry trees in the rural area of Kashmir. However, people chopped-off these trees regularly resulting in decline in cocoon production,” Qadri added.
Qadri however said the department is very keen to revive it and as a first step mass plantation of mulberry trees is being done in J&K.
“The government is also planting the trees in state land, where it is available and the trees are being distributed free of cost to the farmers,” he said.
It may be noted that mulberry trees are the only source of food for silkworms. The Sericulture department provides silkworm seeds to the farmers, who then feed silkworms on mulberry leaves to make cocoons.
It takes silkworm 3-8 days to spin the silk cocoon measuring about 100 meters on an average. The silk is then extracted through industry processing to weave it into silk fabric. The entire process takes only 15-20 days.
The LG administration in the year 2021 took significant steps regarding the rearing process of cocoons, to boost silk production in the region.
According to a report, for the development of healthy silk two basic seed stations have been established at Udhampur and Mirgund in the outskirts of Srinagar.
According to the government, the sericulture department has 173 mulberry nurseries spread over an area of 963 acres, and 374 mulberry blocks over an area of 2215 acres spread across the UT.
“The nurseries are utilized for production of saplings/cuttings for further distribution amongst farmers to augment area under mulberry and mulberry blocks which serve as leaf reservoirs for the landless and marginal farmers,” the department says.
The UT produces 800 metric ton of silk cocoons annually, out of which 50 percent come from the valley, while 50 percent comes from Jammu.
“Most of the cocoon production comes from the rural areas of the UT,” Qadri added.
The farmers also export the raw cocoons to the other states of the country including Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal.
Qadri said the Sericulture department doesn't buy the silk from the farmer, rather they organise an auction market for buyers and the farmers.
“70 percent of cocoons are exported to other states while only 30 percent buyers are locals. The best quality cocoon gets good rates. Normally, one kilogram of best cocoons sells at Rs 1300- 1500,” Qadri added.
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