Pioneering silk-farming in Bangladesh:
Bangladesh has a rich history of traditional textiles for many generations. When the country gained its independence, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed searched for income generating activities targeted towards people in rural areas living in poverty.
There was a high demand for silk in Bangladesh. Sir Fazle decided that the cultivation of silk is an opportunity for people to empower themselves out of poverty, keeping alive the tradition of silk rearing in the process. Thus, in 1978, BRAC started its sericulture project.
BRAC Sericulture is the only institute in Bangladesh which maintains the total chain of sericulture activities - from cultivating silkworm eggs to finished products. At present, 5,927 participants are under BRAC Sericulture Enterprise, involved in sericulture activities, including silkworm rearing and cocoon production, silk reeling, spinning and raw silk production, silk twisting, warping, dyeing and silkweaving.
BRAC Sericulture in the early days:
The sericulture project initially began by providing improved mulberry sapling to farmers, along with technical training for mulberry cultivation, silkworm rearing, and spun silk (endi lachi) production by paddle wheel charka spinning. The project also gave loans to farmers to lease land for mulberry plantations where they could rear silkworms. It ensured the supply of disease-free laying (DFLs) to silkworm rearers, which involved purchasing the cocoons from the silkworm rearers to ensure fair price. BRAC also provided cocoons to individual charka spinners and purchased spun silk. It provided secured employment and timely payments for the women involved in the industry. As the farmers did not have access to any stable credit facilities, BRAC created a reliable microfinance system to support them.
BRAC faced a number of challenges with this development programme, including low productivity of mulberry leaves, long lasting rainy seasons, low productive silkworm races and inability of farmers to pay back loans. High competition with imported silk from China led to disruption of our cocoon market.
The enterprise model:
Higher quality cocoons and increased productivity in farms propelled BRAC’s sericulture activities into an enterprise model. To ensure the fair price of raw silk, BRAC has developed a value chain from raw cocoon production farm to finished silk production. The finished products are marketed through Aarong.
BRAC Sericulture at a glance:
- Silkworm race maintenance and egg production centre 01 Nos
- Silkworm rearing and cocoon production farms 10 Nos
- Silk reeling and raw silk production centre 01 Nos
- Spinning and spun silk production centre 01 Nos
- Silk twisting and warping centre 01 Nos
- Silk weaving and silk fabrics production centres 06 Nos
- Marketing Through Aarong outlets
BRAC has introduced two improved mulberry varieties named S1635 and Victory-1 to increase mulberry leaf production. Multi-bi hybrids and bi-voltine hybrids in silkworm rearing are being adopted to increase cocoon production and cocoon quality. BRAC Sericulture is working to improve silk quality and increase its volume of production by introducing bi-voltine silkworm race during favourable rearing seasons.
The enterprise is currently limited to cottage basin reeling machines to produce raw silk, and hand looms and power looms to produce silk fabric, which are being marketed mainly through Aarong’s outlets. Finally, BRAC Sericulture is increasingly focused on the improvement of raw silk quality and fine silk production.
Synergies with Aarong:
BRAC Sericulture has created a direct link with Aarong for the marketing of BRAC Silk and silk goods. Sericulture products such as silk sarees, dupattas, scarves and unstitched fabric are being sold directly through Aarong outlets.
At present, sericulture enterprise considers consumer preferences when diversifying silk products and developing new designs for products. The enterprise works regularly to improve the quality of its new and existing products. By Improving these areas Brac hopes to attain the additional goal of bringing BRAC’s sericulture products to global standards for exporting to international markets.