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Silk culture tech, production to save Nigeria $2b yearly

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With local production of lawyers’ wigs and other silk products, the country stands to save more than $2 billion yearly if sericulture bio-economy is fully developed and commercialised in the country, said the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC).

This informs a partnership between the council and the Ekiti State government to scale up its production and value chain maximisation.

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Silk is an animal protein fibre produced by certain insects to build cocoons and webs.  Silk is very thin but strong, beautiful, and durable.  It is the only natural continuous filament used in the manufacture of textiles because of its uniqueness.

The vast majority of the world’s production of silk is from the silkworms, scientifically known as Bombyx mori, which originated from China. This species of insect is known to feed exclusively on a plant known as mulberry.

Silk culture technology or sericulture is the commercial breeding of silkworms for their silk and has remained an excellent agro-based cottage industry.  

Sericulture is practised in 58 countries, with China as the foremost mulberry silk-producing country in the world, followed by India. The other major silk-producing countries are Uzbekistan, Brazil, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, DPR Korea, and Iran. On the other hand, the major silk consumers are the USA, Italy, Japan, India, France, China, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, UAE, Korea, and Vietnam.

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Director-General of RMRDC, Prof. H. D. Ibrahim, said: “Due to its capacity to complement poverty alleviation and job creation programmes, many countries in Asia and Africa are showing interest in sericulture programmes development.  In countries such as France, Italy, Spain, and South Korea, the demand for raw silk and silk finished products continues to increase daily.”

Historically, mulberry sericulture was re-introduced to Nigeria by the old Ondo State Government in collaboration with the RMRDC. This eventually led to a joint venture agreement on sericulture development project by both sides with the aim to meet the national demands for it in various industries and consequently, domesticate the technologies of silk egg rearing, cocoon production, mulberry cultivation, and silk processing. This is in addition to popularizing mulberry sericulture so as to stimulate the industrial transformation of the country.
 
“In consonance with the arrangement, Ekiti State government has provided the infrastructure and an egg production expert from India. The government also established 5 hectares of mulberry plantation in addition to training over 50 farmers on silkworm rearing activities.  

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“Furthermore, the government imported various machines including de-flossing, cocoon boiling, re-reeling, twisting, doubling the power, warping and winding machines including handlooms,” he added.  

The council provided grainage for egg production, project vehicles, generating sets, and boreholes for water supply. The Council conducted a capacity building and training of over 200 farmers on all the aspects of mulberry sericulture technology and the training of 683 youths at the six youth empowerment centres in Ado Ekiti, Ifaki Ekiti, Igbemo-Ekiti, Ikere-Ekiti, Igede-Ekiti and Ido Osi LGA’s. 
 
Today sericulture practice has led to the development of many small scale industrial enterprises, Prof. H. D. Ibrahim explained, and the domestication of the sericulture technology has led to a chain of economic/industrial activities, thereby creating employment opportunities that led to poverty reduction and launching of Nigeria into the comity of silk-producing nations.  

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These efforts resulted in the successful domestication of all the technologies involved in silk production namely; mulberry cultivation, silk egg production, cocoon production, silk reeling, silk weaving into the fabric, and the production of lawyer`s wig. For every kilogram of raw silk produced, 12 people were engaged in silk reeling, threading, and weaving. This makes sericulture development a tool for economic transformation and reconstruction of rural areas.  

The sericulture farmers are categorised into several sections like reelers, weavers, cocoon growers, and traders, thus promoting rural industrialization.  The project showed that investment in sericulture enterprises apart from mulberry plantation establishment is less than N200,000.  

“Mini plantation can also be established on small pieces of land that are less than one acre. This makes the sericulture business possible even for farmers with minimum land resources. Once the plantation is established, it would be able to support at least five crops a year for up to 15 years. Available statistics indicated that comparative economies of sericulture vis-à-vis major competing crops such as pepper, tomato, etc., the net profit from sericulture is higher.”  

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The project saved the country a substantial amount of foreign exchange being currently expended on importation of silk yarn and other silk products, he said. It also opened up avenues and opportunities to create wealth for over 30,000 farmers who were interested in establishing small scale mulberry farms and plantations in the state and the sourcing of secondary raw materials, most especially silk yarn to over 55,000 youths who availed themselves opportunities to participate in the sericulture value-chain development in the state.
 
“In essence, through this project, the council, in collaboration with the Ekiti State government, has been able to break the problems of dormancy in mulberry seed propagation and promote plantation establishment of the plant.  

“Likewise, today, the technology for the production of silkworm eggs is locally available.  This was the major constraint that militated against the success of the project at initiation,” the council said.  

The government of adjacent states of Ondo, Edo, and Kwara states has indicated an interest in sericulture enterprise development in their states, and with optimal participation of private sector investors, sericulture development is highly sustainable and the venture can be established in parts of the country with equitable climate with Ekiti State.

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