Sericulture in India: India is known for the rich fauna of the sericigenous insects supported by a variety of food-plant wealth. The Aryans discovered silkworm in sub-Himalayas beyond Kashmir. Indian epics like the Rigveda, Ramayana and Mahabharata also mention the use of pitambara (silk clothes of Indian origin) and chidambara (Chinese origin). Despite the long history of Indian sericulture, it is only after the independence that concerted efforts were initiated for developing sericulture industry on the scientific lines.
India has a unique distinction of producing all the five known varieties of silk, viz. mulberry, oak tasar, tropical tasar, eri and muga. Among these, Bombyx mori feeds on the leaves of Morus sp. and produces silk commonly called as mulberry silk. In mulberry silk production, more than 98% is produced from 5 traditional sericultural states namely, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Jammu and Kashmir.
Sericulture in India
Indian silk industry has grown manifold in terms of both production and productivity, which is attributed mainly to Research and Development efforts of the institutions of the Central Silk Board and different state departments of sericulture in India.
Sericulture is a labour intensive agro industry in all its phases, viz. food-plant cultivation, silkworm rearing, silk reeling and other off-farm activities such as twisting, dyeing, weaving and printing. The industry, Spread over several states, caters to the needs of the domestic as well as the foreign markets.
“Sericulture” has considerable socio-economic importance in Indian, socio-economy largely due to its suitability for small and marginal farm holdings, self employment and low investment with high returns. Favourable weather with quicker returns and high market demand also ensure quick marketing of products.
All these facts have contributed to the growth of silk industry in the country. It is a sustainable farm-based economic enterprise, which provides ample work for women-folks in the rural areas, particularly in silkworm-rearing and silkweeling, and men work in the field and are also engaged in weaving. It has been also found more suitable even for small farm-holdings with less capital investment, and it positively favours rural poor in unorganized sector.
Types of silk (sericulture)
The country has made a phenomenal progress in the mulberry raw-silk production since Independence. Prior to the establishment of the Central Silk Board, silk production in the country was only 1,154 tonnes / year, and sericulture was considered as the subsidiary occupation of the poor farmers.
The establishment of the Central Silk Board by the Government of India and independent departments of sericulture in the major sericulture states and consequent establishment of new research institutions in the sixties, paved the way for reaching higher production level in subsequent decades. In India, more than 97% of mulberry-silk is produced from five traditional sericultural states, viz. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Jummu and Kashmir. This is one of the most popular types of silk.
Vanya silk-moths, are hitherto, known as non-mulberry or wild silk moths. Except eri silkworm, the other wild silkworms are reared in captivity unlike mulberry-silk worms that are domesticated in toto. Most of these Lepidopterans belong to family Satumidae. Though about 500 species produce wild silk, only a few are exploited mainly by tribals of Asia and Africa.
Of the total silk produced in the country, the share of the wild silks is around 11%. Wild silks are mainly produced by tribals and weaker sections of the society. Its sericulture has been the part of the tradition and culture of the tribals in the north-eastern and central Indian states of the country.
Till recently, the very survival of these wild silks was threatened because of the large-scale deforestation, natural calamities, competition from other fibres coupled with lack of suitable technical know-how. Research and Development in the areas like package of practices for food-plant cultivation, production and distribution of disease-free seeds, technologies forlrearing silkworms, disease-control measures, introduction of simple and faster machines for reeling and spinning are now promoting wild silks sector faster than ever before.
Tasar silk is an important non-timber forest produce found in tropical forests in the central states of the country. It is collected in the form of silk cocoons spun by polyphagous sericigenous insect Antheraea mylitta, feeding on the leaves of the variety of the food-plants.
It thrives as a part of the traditional livelihood among the aboriginals of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Over 1.25 lakh families are involved in tasar-culture activities in different states. With a rugged look, this silk is mainly preferred for furnishings. Sarees, dressmaterials and blends with the natural fibres like cotton and this silk is found very attractive and organic.
This types of silk, commonly called as endi or errandi produced by Samia ricini (Donovan)/ Philosamia ricini, is an eri-silk which is largest among vanya silks. Assam is believed to be the natural abode of domesticated eri silk-moth. Its rearing is common in the tribal inhabited areas of the north-eastern region, particularly Brahmaputra Valley of Asom and its neighboring states.
The insect prefers warm and humid climate. A vast area covering 7,793 ha in Asom, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram is covered under eri-silk production. About 1.2 lakh families are involved in its culture. Since pupae are eaten by local people, the demand for this culture is increasing. Now attempts are also being made to introduce eri sericulture in India where some parts of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu too.
Last types of silk, the golden yellow muga silk (also called mooga or moonga) is obtained from muga silkworm Antheraea assamensis; syn. Antheraea assama, which is endemic of northeastern India, and the moths still exist in wild state.
Though reported from Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Asom, Meghalaya, Pondicherry in India besides from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, commercial muga silk production is confined to Brahmaputra Valley of Asom and its surrounding hills. In the north-eastern states about 5,362 ha are covered under muga food plantation and more than 30,000 farmers are involved in its ‘sericulture in India‘.
Cultivated muga is multivoltine, having 4-6 overlapping generations in a year. The wild population is probably bivoltine, as they undergo hibernation in pupal stage during winter. Like that of other lepidopteran insects, the life-cycle of muga silkworm passes through four stages, Viz. egg, larva, pupa and moth.
The egg stage lasts for 78 days in summer and 12-15 days in winter, larval stage passes through 5 instars and larval period for 20-25 days during summer and 30-40 days in winter. After larval stage, mature larva enters into pupal stage inside the cocoon. Pupal period is of 18-22 days in summer and 30-35 days during winter. Moth stage is non-feeding stage, which lasts for 7-9 days in any season of the year.
CENTRAL SILK BOARD (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2006
Since sericulture in India is a state subject, each state has its own laws and regulations for promotion of silk industry. However, under the new concept of liberalization privatlzatlon and globalization, it became imperative to create an enabling ambient for the orderly growth of the silk industry.
The stringent rules and “License Raj” sometimes affected the speedy growth. To provide better opportunities to all states and stakeholders, Government of India has brought out certain amendments to the Central Silk Board Act and the same was notified in the Gazette of India during 2006. The purpose of this amendment is to produce and supply good quality silkworm eggs to the farmers which will help them to produce quality cocoons. As a result, reelers are assured to get good quality cocoons throughout the year.
In “sericulture“, over the years and plans, silk production in the country remained stagnant and the production of much needed quality raw silk for powerloom sector of the country remained unfulfilled. As a result, the import of quality silk became inevitable and China took advantage of the situation and started exploitation.
To make India self sufficient in her annual requirement of raw silk, which is estimated to be around 26,000 m.t. by the end of XI Plan, large scale R&D activities coupled with some financial assistance were conceived. The lead given by JICA programme followed by IVLP supported by Catalytic Development programme has shown a very encouraging trend.
Hence, the future plant in similar lines have been drawn. The major thrust being given towards soil health and moisture conservation, silkworm breed improvement, egg production, disease and pest management, post cocoon technology including product diversification and byproduct utilization for mulberry silk sector.