Lahore: The decline of Silk industry in Changa Manga, a small town in District Kasur, Punjab, has affected 1,000 poor families, who were dependent for their livelihood on hatching silkworms and working at silk fiber producing factories.
Despite being an agricultural country and having 70 percent of its population living in rural areas, there has been no dedicated effort in Pakistan to develop this sector and its varying factions such as sericulture.
Scientifically speaking sericulture is the process of rearing silkworms for the production of silk fiber. The silkworms feed on the Mulberry leaves and eat it in tons before morphing into cocoons. A single cocoon produces approximately 1000 meter of silk thread.
Sericulture has been practiced in all the four provinces of Pakistan and Azad Jammu Kashmir. The primary activity of silk production though concentrated around the irrigated forest plantation of Changa Manga, Kamalia, Chichawatni and Multan in Punjab province.
According to local manufacturer, Haji Bilal Ansari, some wrong decisions by the government contributed to the demise of this industry.
The government, to begin with, he said, stopped importing silkworms and started producing its own which had a low survival rate. The local Mulberry trees started getting infected, added Ansari, but it failed to grab the attention of the officials at the forest department leading to its complete deforestation.
He said, “This kind of Mulberry had the potential to produce one of the finest silks in the world. Similarly, the imported Mulberry trees from Japan, now planted on 100 Acre in Changa Manga, produces low-quality silk that has no international demand due to hard texture and yellowish color.” Smuggling of cheap cocoons from Afghanistan, said Ansari proved the final nail into the coffin. The cocoons from Afghanistan were sold at Rs 100/kg while the locally produced cocoons were sold at Rs 500/kg.
Sericulture experts say that the silkworms produced locally by the Sericulture Department have a high mortality rate, leaving the farmers with little motivation to spend time and money on its hatching.
The practice is that the farmers are not paid according to the number of worms they hatch; their earning depends on the quantity of cocoons produced. Therefore, the mortality rate of the silkworms is critical.
Since partition, and until 2005 Silk production has been the domain of one family in Changa Manga. According to the local people when this family dissociated itself from the silk production the industry began to wear off.
Sheikh Rasheed, a member of the National Assembly and a leading politician of Pakistan belongs to the family.
In an exclusive telephonic interview with News Lens Pakistan, he said that there were times when he used to import 37,000 Silkworm packets from South Korea, which meant that he was producing 740,000 Kilograms of cocoons in one season.
“We used to sell silkworms to the forestry department as well. Then the government began ignoring the forests especially the Mulberry trees’ cultivation that mainly affected the silk industry in Changa Manga,” said Rasheed.
He stated that the Sericulture Department was just another parasite feeding on the government’s lax attitude.
In the last ten years, the department according to Rasheed failed to produce one Kilogram of cocoon on its strength.
When News Lens Pakistan asked as to why he did nothing during his ministerial tenures for the survival of silk industry, he said his hands were tied as the timber mafia had more influence and the government was not interested in promoting the silk industry.
According to unofficial estimate there were 300 small factories in Changa Manga until 2005, now there are barely 10.
Haji Bilal Ansari had ten small-scale silk producing facilities in Changa Manga. He would earn Rs 60,000 in profit per month besides feeding hundreds of employees. As the decline started, he had to shut down first four factories and then the entire business.
He told News Lens Pakistan during its team’s visit to Changa Manga that from 2002 to 2005, around 50,000 tons cocoon was produced in Changa Manga and other areas surrounding it.
Nusrat Bibi shared the memories of good old days with News Lens Pakistan at her home in Changa Manga. She recalled that her husband used to work in the silk manufacturing factory while she would hatch silkworms at home.
“I have started hatching worms after six years, but the quantity has decreased tremendously.” Every member of the family used to be involved in the production of silk in Changa Manga.
On average, each household would hatch four packets of silk worms. Since one bag would produce 22 kilograms of cocoon sold at the rate of 650 per Kg, a family of five members could easily make Rs 57,200 by the end of the season; a huge amount for a rural family said, Ansari.
The hatching season begins in the last week of February and ends in the first week of April.
Rana Imtiaz, the supervisor at Changa Manga Sericulture Department, told News Lens Pakistan during its visit to the forest that the government had once again started importing silk worms from Bulgaria.
Each packet contains 20,000 eggs and costs somewhere around Rs 2,500.
According to Imtiaz, approximately 200 Packets had been distributed this year to the farmers.
The farmers, however, claim that 35 bags of silkworms are being hatched in Changa Manga.
When News Lens Pakistan asked about the potentials of the locally produced silkworms, Imtiaz said that we could barely get around 15 kilograms cocoon.
The supervisor agreed that the mortality rate of the locally produced silk worms was much higher.
According to the supervisor, the research wing of the forestry department Punjab has imported Papua from abroad to breed silkworms locally, but he agreed that the quality of the locally produced silkworms is not satisfactory.
Aggravating the problem is the low-quality Mulberry trees planted in Changa Manga.
Imtiaz said that the locally produced Mulberry trees used to be of finer quality. However, defending his department he added that he has been persuading the forest department to produce Mulberry trees locally.
Provincial Minister for Forests and Wildlife Malik Muhammad Asif Bha Awan, told News Lens Pakistan on telephone that Mulberry tree could not be produced in Pakistan due to viral infection. He said his department in collaboration with the Agricultural University Faisalabad and Namal College Mianwali was trying to find a solution. Mr Awan, however, said he did not know when this task would be completed.
The Minister agreed that the Forestry Department lacks professional people. He stated that many workers employed by the forest department were unproductive and had been involved in moral corruption. When News Lens Pakistan asked the minister as to why the government had been tolerating these thugs, in a strange reply the minister defended his position saying that workers cannot be thrown out just because they are not productive. It was, he said, his duty to provide them with job security.
The experts believe that each one of the stakeholders from the manufacturers to the government departments are to be blamed for the demise of the silk industry in Pakistan.