These are such chalk and cheese days where we see very many distressed farmers throwing away their hoes to quit farming and also scores of aflame youngsters throwing away their ties to embellish farming. Coming in of the new gen is a fairly appreciable feat, but the renouncements of age old traditional farmers is a desolate matter of concern. Much has been talked about the woes of the anguishing farmers. Apart from moaning on their miseries, cursing the natural vagaries, rebuking ourselves, censuring the government and its policies, we have barely made efforts to revive the spirits of depressed farmers.
Nothing on earth can replace food crop farming. It is truly undeniable. But when rains fail, crops fail; when crops fail, funds fail; when funds fail, hope fails and when hope fails, desperately the farmer fails. Never would the nature wish to see the failure of Man, although the Man fails it perpetually. That bountiful nature which offers us diverse resources for the success of food crop farming, also has in reserve various other means of/ for farming. One such inventive boon from the repository of Nature’s resources is the practise of silk farming.
Silk farming is a commercial cultivation which can be successfully practised in irrigated, rain – fed and under drip irrigation conditions even in drought – prone areas where other food and commercial crops fail. Let’s see what it takes to be a silk farmer. As the name says it all, silk farming results in production of the elegant silk that is used in making of sarees, ties, curtains, carpets, parachutes, etc., and also yields valuable foreign exchange. In brief, the practise of raising silkworms to produce the quality silk, in simple terms, is silk farming and in technical terms is called Sericulture. A Silkworm, unlike bollworm, more like honey bee is a beneficial insect which produces more than a kilometre of silk filament wound around itself in the form of a cocoon, only on the condition of devouring about 30 grams of enriched mulberry leaves, the sole source of its food and water (moisture content of leaves is around 70%). Naively, Sericulture has two main activities – Mulberry cultivation, as “food crop” for silkworms and Silkworm rearing, to harvest the economic product “cocoon”.
Mulberry can literally grow in all soil types, but grows comfortably in slightly acidic ones. Being perennial, once planted it lasts productively for 12 to 15 years with 5 harvests per year and each plant yields 1 kg leaves every 70 days. Silkworm takes about 30 days to produce silk since hatching. Nowadays the number of days of rearing are reduced to 20 days for farmers as 10 days old worms are commercially available so that more frequent rearings can be taken in lesser days thereby there can be a sizeable increase in the income. With a minimum of 1 cent land (436 sq.ft.) 54 mulberry plants can be raised through which 1500 worms can be fed and about 3 kg cocoon can be harvested fetching about ₹1600 once in 20 days. When done in an acre of land, there would be 5445 mulberry plants fed to 1,50,000 worms yielding 300 kg cocoons, fetching ₹1,65,000 rupees in 20 days. Initially, for every One rupee invested One rupee and thirty three paise can be taken back which increases to a level of One rupee fifty paise to One rupee eighty paise for every rupee in the later stages as the initial establishment costs are incurred only once. Certainly, Water is the most indispensable factor for any crop. The water requirement for mulberry is much lesser to a level of 10,000 L for an acre (in drip irrigation system as the entire drip irrigation unit is provided free of cost as a subsidy by the government to a maximum of about 5 acres/individual) yielding 5000 kg mulberry leaves. The irrigation frequency is also relatively minimal ranging from once in every 7 to 10 days based on the soil type. Thus, mulberry is indubitably very less water consuming than most other crops.
Apart from silk cocoon production, sericulture offers wide prospects for many farm – based entrepreneurship. Every single investment in sericulture is aided partly or fully as subsidies by the state and central governments so as to lessen the capital spending of the farmers and agripreneurs. Though silk farming is practised in moderate level in all the districts of Tamil Nadu (except Chennai), it is intensively practised in the Krishnagiri to Theni belt covering the western districts. In some places, complete silk farming is not carried out instead Moriculture or Mulberry cultivation is alone done by establishing Mulberry nursery which is also a highly profitable venture for agripreneurs. For every 4 months, 1,60,000 saplings can be raised per acre fetching ₹1,60,000 rupees. Also, another form of entrepreneurship associated with silkworm rearing is, rearing only upto 8 to 10 days from hatching and supplying such young age worms to the farmers. This practise of rearing is called Chawki rearing and the young age worms supplied to the farmers for further rearing are called Chawki worms. This chawki rearing ensures stabilised cocoon yield for the farmers, eases their work and also ensures high net returns to the chawki rearers with profits inflowing once in 10 days. Crucially, on a broader term sericulture is actually a hybrid of farming and industry and hence industry based entrepreneurship is also favourably viable here. The silk filament, wound as cocoons by the worms is unwound by man and made into lengthy silk threads which are finally weaved into fabrics. The process, technically called silk reeling, is facilitated using machinery and also offers an extensive arena for entrepreneurship and employment similar to that of the weaving industry. The subsidies and trainings provided for establishment of mulberry garden, rearing shed construction, establishment of chawki rearing centres, drip irrigation unit, rearing appliances, reeling unit establishment makes both farming and entrepreneurship decidedly fruitful. Furthermore, the setting up of consulting, testing and assessment services can also be taken as an entrepreneurial option through the establishment of Seripolyclinics (similar to agri clinics) aided with government funding.
The foremost threats encountered by traditional farming and agripreneurship these days are the monsoon messes and the financial crises. With improved technologies and profuse government subsidies topped with resourceful trainings Silk farming poses as the most feasible choice embedded with affluent resistance against the jolting threats for both farming as well as agripreneurship. Subsequently, serifarming resiliently assures both the ailing farmers and the avid entrepreneurs a better living firsthand and the best living thereafter.
(Chandini S is a Sericulture Graduate and an IAS aspirant fascinated with the unadulterated, countrified, rope – cot styled life)