The revival of Asia’s largest Sericulture Farm in Odisha

Updated: Mar 15, 2021 3:36 PM

India is the second-largest producer of silk yarn in the world after China. In 2017-20, the Indian government allocated Rs 2161.68 crore under its Central Sector Scheme 'Silk Samagra' to promote silk production.

sericultureA small district in Odisha, Jajpur is also home to Gopalpur Tassar Fabrics, one of the country's leading Tassar producing centres.

By Dr Yatharth Kachiar

India is the second-largest producer of silk yarn in the world after China. In 2017-20, the Indian government allocated Rs 2161.68 crore under its Central Sector Scheme ‘Silk Samagra’ to promote silk production. With its rich heritage of Tassar culture and vast forest resources, Odisha is one of the best-suited states to lead the country in sericulture and Tassar silk production. In collaboration with the TATA Steel Foundation, the district administration in Jajpur (Odisha) is reviving Asia’s largest sericulture farm at Sukinda. To ensure safe and resilient future for indigenous communities involved in sericulture, the district administration has joined hands with Ms Archana Soreng, member of the UN Secretary General’s Youth advisory group on climate change for promotion of NTFP-based livelihood in the district.

A small district in Odisha, Jajpur is also home to Gopalpur Tassar Fabrics, one of the country’s leading Tassar producing centres. The famous Gopalpur Tassar fabrics, known for their artistic hand spun and hand reeled yarns, received Geographical Indication (GI) tag from the central government in 2009. After its revival, the Sukinda sericulture farm spread in an area of 298 hectare will act as a demonstration park and leading sericulture hub in the country. It will have world-class spinning and reeling facilities, a cocoon bank, and a high-quality plantation for silkworm rearing, as per the district officials. Advanced technology such as geofencing and drone technology is being used to ensure proper demarcation, monitoring, tracking, and capturing of plantation activity in a phase-wise manner.

Moreover, by leveraging technology and best agricultural practices, the Jajpur administration is promoting sericulture on an intensive scale at Sukinda to ensure the socio-economic upliftment of the families involved in sericulture industry. As a labour-intensive and agro-based cottage industry, Tassar rearing in Sukinda is primarily practised by people belonging to poor and socially backward sections of society who are dependent on biodiversity utilisation for their sustenance. The industry is known for providing indirect employment to an equal number of reelers, spinners, and weavers.

By ensuring backward and forward linkages in pre-and post-cocoon activities, the Sukinda Sericulture farm will double the family income and ensure sustainable earning throughout the year for families involved in this industry. It will also generate employment during various phases of silk production through economic plantation, inter-cropping activities, cocoon production, reeling, spinning, weaving and capacity building. The women Self Help Group (SHGs) are especially encouraged to lead the site’s operational maintenance to boost gender inclusivity and women empowerment.

The project will also play a critical role in promoting and preserving biodiversity and the ecological balance of nature by creating forests through the massive plantation of indigenous host plants Arjun and Asan. The destruction of natural habitats of the Sukinda variety of silkworm, Sukinda Ecorace, due to anthropogenic stress has affected its population size. The forest regeneration activity will also help revive this endangered species.

Until recently, sericulture was considered a subsidiary occupation in the country. However, the advancement of technology has made it possible to practice it on an intensive scale. The high demand for silk and silk goods at the global level has made the sericulture industry capable of generating adequate income for the people involved in its entire value chain system. The present global scenario indicates the enormous opportunities for the Indian silk industry. The international demand for silk is accompanied by growth in domestic consumption due to the rise in the middle-class population. Unsurprisingly, India is the largest consumer of silk in the world. It is crucial that India seizes this opportunity in sericulture as soon as possible. The revival project of the Sukinda sericulture farm by the district administration in Jajpur is a positive step.

However, despite the positive intent and administrative will, the sericulture industry’s growth in Jajpur will not be without its challenges. One of the primary challenges for the district administration is limited interest among young people to practice Tassar sericulture. It is imperative to attract youth towards this age-old craft for the long-term and sustainable development of the sericulture industry. Another possible challenge is the marketing of Tassar-based products, especially when complementary and substitute products are competing to take away the market share of Tassar. Nevertheless, if implemented meticulously, the revival of the Sukinda Sericulture farm in Jajpur would be a giant step for India in producing Tassar-reeled yarn which can eventually replace Chinese yarn in the global market.

(The author is an independent researcher. She is also a Doctorate from JNU, New Delhi. Twitter: @YKachiar . Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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