Pandemic, syndicates, limited demand have all added to the woes of the silk farmers in the past few years.
The promise of sericulture in India attracted several farmers and weavers to try their luck in the arms of the “Queen of Textile”, Naveen Kumar Gola a silk cocoon farmer in Rayadurga, Andhra Pradesh, shifted to sericulture five years ago hoping to make a fortune, instead, his experience in the past two years has made him question his choices.
“Rates have dropped, three years back when I joined this line of business it was because of the rates they gave for silkworm cocoons, Rs. 400 per kg was the average rate, now for the past 2 years, the rates have consistently dropped to half that, around Rs. 200-210 per kg.” said Mr Gola
The pandemic has been one of the major factors for the inconsistencies in the auction prices of cocoons, adding to the instability sericulture farmers face in the country.
Other than that, there also seems to be a disconnect between the reelers looking for cocoons and the farmers auctioning them, “reelers, they are forming syndicates and manipulating the rates, recently one issue happened when a farmer I know, sold his stock for Rs.290 per kg in the first auction, in the next auction the prices dropped by Rs. 50, usually they used to go down by a few rupees,” for the same quality of cocoon the farmer gets drastically different prices. Mr Gola said.
“The fluctuation in the rates can majorly be attributed to supply and demand. As the world has come to halt because of the pandemic, so has the market for silk, hence affecting the farmer’s incomes. Before the pandemic, the situation was not so dire.” said Mr Bilal Ahmed Kawoosa volunteer exports expert for International Sericultural Commission.
The situation spans to other markets in the country as well, Hindupur market in Andhra Pradesh also has a similar problem.
India is the second-largest producer of silk, Karnataka being the largest producer in the country. Yet silk handloom weavers in the state are suffering losses not just because of the COVID-19 induced pandemic but also because of lack of support from the government. Not sure what the problem is. Therefore cannot understand the next para.
“The production of silk in the country is very low, earlier we used to get imports transported from Chennai, but because it has stopped now, we are facing troubles. Government should provide us with support. Sales are there but it is getting a lot more difficult to attract customers. Government should procure our products. Costs are more after GST(Goods and Services Tax) but it is easier to acquire raw material now. We face problems in our productions process mostly,” said the owner of Kedarnath silks in Yelahanka Bangalore.
There has been a severe drop in the import of raw silk in 2020-21 from 2019-20, from Rs. 780 crores the imports have dropped to Rs.282.2 crores in the months of April to November according to data by the Central Silk Board of India (CSB).
“I would attribute this decline in Imports to the current standoff between India and China, imports from China account for the majority of silk imports in the country. But since the government has decided to boycott Chinese products, the imports have declined,” said Mr Kawoosa.
The quality of silk produced by the country is not from high-end machines like ARM( Automatic Reeling Machines) and hence do not meet the expectations of the global quality of silk according to this article.
“More than 20 weavers have left because of financial distress. For us handloom workers it has been even more difficult because of the power looms taking over. Weavers are no longer willing to work for irregular income, most of the men in the business are uneducated and alcoholics, so there is a lack in R&D for weaving, the export market that has demand wants customisation in their product for which you require skilled weavers” Kanchipuram silk weaver’s association (Indira Priyadarshini) said
The financial stress in this sector became so severe that an estimated 17 people have committed suicide in the Dodaballapura weavers unit.
“Market is not that fast anymore; costly items don’t get sold and the pandemic has made things worse,” said Mr Srinivas of R Narayana and Bros’s silk saree manufacturers in Bangalore
According to the data provided by the CSB in 2019-2020 around 94.30 lakh people were employed by this profession, who are directly impacted by the financially stressed industry. More than 80 per cent of employment in this sector is unorganised, they are the ones impacted indirectly.
Aside from the obvious impacts, the higher cost of silk is going to impact consumers at the end of the chain as luxurious sarees will start costing a fortune.
Findings of an evaluation study conducted by the Central Silk Board of India for the Central Sector Scheme during XI Plan recommended that “there is an utmost need for increasing the level of financial support to the seed sector of Sericulture to the tune of Rs.90 crores as the seed is the basic and primary requirement for the growth and development of Sericulture. Considering the fact that the Seed Sector in Agriculture, Horticulture and Other Allied Sectors are being supported by huge subsidies by the Government of India, the Sericulture sector is also comparable under the given parameters of performance and it provides livelihood options to large segments of relatively poor and landless stakeholders based in rural and tribal areas dominated by women workforce.”
Silk in India
Since the 1890s, Jamset ji Nusserwanji Tata a visionary had seen that silk would be a good bet in export markets and sericulture though present in India but with no national recognition, would provide employment opportunities to the willing.
Hence, he set out on his search for the best practices in silk cultivation and production across the world, Japan being one of the leading producers of high-quality silk at that time, piqued his interest. The Japanese were using the best raw materials from around the globe combined with the Japanese climate to produce this shimmering thread of profits.
JN Tata was determined to enter into this sector, hence he bought along a Japanese couple “the Odzus” to handle his newly started sericulture venture in India. He found the conditions in Mysore, Ramnagara favourable for silk cultivation. But due to some tussle with the locals, he decided to shift his Sericulture institute cum manufacturing unit in Bangalore in 1896 with the permission of dewan K SheshadriIyer, In south Bengaluru Thyagrajanagar near Basavangudi.
The factory eventually saw its decline with his sons taking over and the government of India using the TATA model to initiate sericulture units across the country. The Tata Silk Farm Colony signage is now the only remains of the factory in Basavangudi according to this article.
Since then, Ramnagara has become Asia’s second-largest silk cocoon market with more than 100 MT of sales happening every single day.