“We’ve earned Rs70,000 in a month. However, if I work elsewhere, even with my kids, I can’t earn that much,” said Muhammad Aslam, a silkworm farmer in Punjab’s Changa Manga.
Aslam’s income came from raising silkworms. It took 45 days from buying silkworm eggs to hatching, silking and selling cocoons.
“As there are five in our family, we can raise two packets (each containing 3,000-4,000 silkworm eggs) in one season.”
Aslam told China Economic Net (CEN) cheerfully that “we’ve used this income to cure my kids’ eye troubles and buy new clothes for them.”
Most families in Changa Manga where Aslam lives were poor in the past. Some families used to have average daily income of less than Rs500, which was below the World Bank’s poverty line of $3.2 (about Rs588) per capita per day in Pakistan.
Many poor households have now started raising silkworms to earn a living. “This spring families around us raised about 1,500 packets. Many people used to ride bicycles, but now they have bought motorcycles after raising silkworms. Moreover, some are capable of paying for their children to go to school and get married,” Aslam said.
Back in 2018, farmers in Punjab were mostly breeding Bulgarian silkworms. In scorching summer, it was well above the optimal temperature of 25°C for silkworm cultivation.
This meant that there was only one season a year when silkworms could be raised for money, with limited increase in income.
“Since that year, we have imported Chinese silkworm eggs, which are of better quality. With good yield and resistance, they can be raised in both spring and autumn. That year, 300 packets of silkworm eggs were imported, and the import was increased to 600 packets in 2019,” said Muhammad Farooq Bhatti, Deputy Director Sericulture, Forest Department Punjab, adding that “1,000 families in Changa Manga started raising silkworms this year.”
For rural Pakistani families, silkworm farming takes up little time and brings in significant additional income.
As silkworms feed on mulberry leaves mainly in the last seven days (over 85% of their total mulberry leaf intake), farmers are generally supposed to pick mulberry leaves frequently to feed silkworms during these seven days, and they can continue other farm work such as raising cattle and planting crops during the rest of the time, Bhatti explained.
In terms of income from raising a packet of silkworm eggs, according to Bhatti, the purchase cost is Rs2,000-2,500, and the output is 35-40 kg of cocoons. As the price of cocoon is Rs1,200-1,300 per kg, the income is Rs30,000-40,000.
Mulberry trees required for silkworm breeding are planted by the government, and the mulberry leaf picking fee is Rs150 a season. If a family of four or five, comprising husband, wife, children and grandparents, raises three packets of silkworm eggs, the income can reach Rs80,000-90,000.
If they raise eggs for two seasons a year, the income will hit Rs150,000, with an average increase of Rs12,000-15,000 per month.
With the improvement of farmers’ skills in raising silkworms, cocoon production is expected to double.
Head of Buraq Import Export (Pvt) Ltd, a company that provides cocoons, He Yubing said that the same type of silkworm can produce 50-60 kg of cocoons in China, which is about 1.5 times it produces in Pakistan.
For silkworm farmers, in addition to silkworm, mulberry tree is another key factor for raising silkworms. Silkworms only feed on mulberry leaves, and can take 4-5 times a day in the late age of silkworm rearing, so a packet of silkworm eggs can devour over 100 kg of fresh mulberry leaves.
Moreover, the amount of intake affects silkworm size and cocoon production.
The Sericulture, Forest Department Punjab has introduced Chinese mulberry trees. “It has provided us with dwarf mulberry trees. We, including kids and the elderly, can pluck leaves while standing on the ground, and we have mulberry leaves in winter too,” Aslam said contentedly.
Bhatti has been content with the mulberry varieties imported from China. “If the soil is appropriate, 250 quality mulberry trees can be planted on one acre of land. Besides, they grow very fast. If they are planted in January this year, they can grow big leaves in February next year. Moreover, the mulberry trees on one acre of land can support 10 packets of silkworm eggs, which results in 300 kg of cocoons. In the past, it took three hours to pick 40 kg of leaves, now it takes 30-45 minutes, thus saving 75% of labour cost.”
The development of silkworm industry can reduce poverty and increase income for Pakistani farmers. In addition, with Pakistan’s depleting foreign exchange reserves, it is of great realistic significance, as it can promote import substitution and reduce foreign exchange spending.
Soft, smooth and flexible, raw silk is a high-grade textile material that also has major uses in industry and medicine.
A silk producer, Muhammad Yaseen said that the high-quality raw silk produced from imported Chinese silkworm eggs is so fine that it will be sent to Karachi to be produced as fabric and exported to Dubai.
Yaseen told the CEN that the sericulture business was more common two decades ago. It is disappearing mainly due to the scarcity of silkworm eggs, despite being imported.
“If Pakistan is able to produce enough cocoons, we don’t need to import them from Afghanistan.”
The article originally appeared on the China Economic Net
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2022.
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