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Silk the Queen of the Fibers: Bangladesh Perspective

Silk is the most gorgeous fiber and also known worldwide as the queen of fibers. It is a natural protein fiber that is obtained from the cocoons made by the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori. For its complicated production silk fiber is not produced all over the world and but its aesthetic look and feel it has a high demand worldwide. Against the demand of 300 MT (Metric Tons) of raw silk Bangladesh only produces about 50 MT of raw silk though it has enough scopes to meet its demand from local production. This paper deals with the problems and prospects of Bangladesh silk industry where the discussion is divided into two parts first one here is highlighting the sericulture, and the second one in the next issue will be on silk fabric production and silk products. It is going to find out the problems and obstacles for the industry growth. Suggestions and findings are for the industry concerned to think about.

SILK, The Queen of the Textile Fibers:

The Queen of Textiles spells luxury, elegance, class and comfort. Mankind has always loved this shimmering fibre of unparalleled grandeur from the moment Chinese empress Shiling Ti discovered it in her tea cup. It withstood many daunting challenges from other natural and artificial fibers and yet, remained the undisputed Queen of Textiles since centuries. Exquisite qualities like the natural sheen, inherent affinity for dyes and vibrant colors, high absorbance, light weight, resilience and excellent drape etc. have made silk, the irresistible and inevitable companion of the eve, all over the world.

Chemically speaking, silk is made of proteins secreted in the fluid state by a caterpillar, popularly known as ‘silkworm’. These silkworms feed on the selected food plants and spin cocoons as a ‘protective shell’ to perpetuate the life. Silkworm has four stages in its life cycle viz., egg, caterpillar, pupa and moth. Man interferes this life cycle at the cocoon stage to obtain the silk, a continuous filament of commercial importance, used in weaving of the dream fabric.

SILK – WHERE?      

Geographically, Asia is the main producer of silk in the world and produces over 95 % of the total global output. Though there are over 40 countries on the world map of silk, bulk of it is produced in China and India, followed by Japan, Brazil and Korea. China is the leading supplier of silk to the world with an annual production of 1.5lakh MT.

noteallIndia is the second largest producer of silk and also the largest consumer of silk in the world. Bangladesh also produces very small amount of silk. In Bangladesh silk is more likely a traditional dress of wearing that holds the aristocracy of the past.


clip_image009Background of silk and Sericulture in Bangladesh

During the late nineteen seventies Bangladesh has worked hard to create a thriving sericulture industry. Bangladesh Sericulture Board (BSB) was established in 1977 to stimulate operations and simultaneously, Bangladesh Sericulture Research and Training Institute (BSRTI) were strengthened to create skilled professionals, while ensuring scientific background to the development of sericulture. However, contrary to expectations, silk production in Bangladesh remained an unrealized potential to the end of the last century. Production declined dramatically over 1995 due to further decrease of tariff on imported silk, followed by devastating floods in  1998, while the sericulture industry in Bangladesh largely become a stagnant. Private organizations continued producing silk merchandise, but largely depending on more reliable imported silk. In 1998, the government put into the Silk Development Project (SDP), within which Bangladesh Silk Foundation (BSF) was created to revive the silk sub-sector once again into a forward looking industry. SDP was a pilot project created to prove the hypothesis that Bangladesh does have comparative advantage in producing quality silk cocoons and raw silk. And during the operation over the first five years (1998-2002), BSF worked with the primary producers, identified problems and prescribed the appropriate solutions with technical and financial support. Several NGOs BRAC, Caritas, Proshika, RDRS, TMSS, IIRD etc. had been working together helping BSF as a part of rural development. And BRAC has always been the superior among the NGO’s that has provided largely in the production of raw silk in Bangladesh. However during 2002-2005 the mulberry cultivation increased due to the imposition of tariff on imported silk and providing project support. Silk cocoon and raw silk production showed increased trend for rearing HYV (High Yield Volume) silkworm eggs. And by this time Bangladesh regained a flow of sericulture. At the same time the demand of silk raw material increased to 300mt (metric ton) against the countries local supply of only 50mt. So it remains as a big problem as industrialists import silk from China. Again government imposes vat on import of silk that also hampered the industries as country imports silk worth Tk. 50 crores although Bangladesh still exports silk products. So both the sericulture and industries having problems and the only way to overcome is to produce more silk locally.

Sericulture in Bangladesh

Sericulture is an agro industry, the end product of which is silk. There are four different types of silk, each of which is produced from a distinct type of silkworm feeding on a specific host plant that is mulberry. Mulberry forms the basic food materials for mulberry silkworms and the major silk produced in the world are from these silkworms. So sericulture industry comprises three distinct activities:

  • Production of mulberry leaves to feed silkworms,
  • Rearing of silkworms to produce silk cocoons, and
  • Reeling of cocoons to produce silk yarn.

Mulberry leaf is the food on which the silkworm lives on. So production of raw silk is directly depends on the production of this leaf. In Bangladesh mulberry plantation occupies now about 4000 hectors which helps in the production of about 50metric ton raw silk against the demand of 300 metric ton. Cocoon productivity from 100 dfls (disease free larvae) has increased to 40 in Bangladesh from the past rate of 15. But the raw silk production did not increase at that rate. Bangladesh even today can produce 80-100 metric ton of raw silk if it utilizes its present resources. Statistics are given here to show the scenario of sericulture.

Bangladesh sericulture statistics (1995-2008)

Activities Operating years
1995-96 1997-98 1999-00 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2007-08
Mulberry plantation(ha) 6525 9162 3559 2538 5670 5436 5238 5000 5050
Silkworm rearers(no.) 21997 29896 16668 17500 15201 13500 13998 13200 12500
Dfls rearerd (lakh) 61.68 53.73 27.44 23.06 21.25 17.30 14.80 13.50 12.00
Cocoons produced(mt) 808.00 824.92 436.75 478.53 467.50 519.00 518.44 486.00 480.00
Cocoon productivity/100dfls 13.10 15.35 16.00 23.00 22.00 30.00 35.03 36.00 40.00
Raw silk production(mt) 44.89 48.52 27.30 38.3 33.12 47.18 51.84

Present scenario

Sericulture in Bangladesh is governed by Bangladesh Silk Board (BSB), Bangladesh Silk Foundation (BSF) and some NGO’s, mainly BRAC. These organizations have their own grainages. Bangladesh Sericulture Research and Training Institute (BSRTI) is now the only research and training institute of Bangladesh located in Rajshahi. It provides technical support to the organizations and technological advice to the silk industries. Though Bangladesh has a structure to guide the sericulture projects but it has not been able to work as efficiently as it was needed. As a result the mulberry plantation has decreased to half during the last decade. The main reason behind that may be the negligence of the governing bodies, perfect implementation of plans, lack of publicity and yarn import from China. These are now resulting in the increase of the demand supply gap. BSB is now working under two different programs – extension and production programs and they are getting government support to implement their programs. But there is lack of hardship and efficiency to implement the programs. Government activities are not also strong enough to meet the demand supply gap.

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