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MANIPUR SET TO WORM ITS WAY UP ON THE SILK ROUTE

MANIPUR SET TO WORM ITS WAY UP ON THE SILK ROUTE
Courtesy: The Manipur Page


For centuries, the women of Khurkhul village in Manipur have raised silkworms. Tens of thousands of grey worms with voracious appetites are kept in bamboo trays either in the living room or a rearing shed. They are fed fresh mulberry leaves every six hours until they spin golden yellow cocoons of raw silk. Then, one by one, the cocoons are boiled, and the fibrous silk is unravelled and wound on to a stick. “Silk is an important part of our tradition. We need it for marriage ceremonies and it is part of our life,’’ says 20-year-old Surbala Devi.

Manipur was once a key staging post on the fabled silk route. Traders carried silk from China’s Yunnan province through Myanmar, across India and finally to Afghanistan where they joined the main silk road. Now, Manipur wants to spin tradition into profit once again. Japan’s Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) has loaned Manipur $32.77m in the first phase of a project to revitalise its silk industry. ``The Japanese built an empire out of high quality silk for parachutes and we want to do the same,’’ said S D Sharma, director of Manipur’s department of agriculture. Consultants have introduced modern Japanese sericulture methods to Manipur hoping to boost production. Manipur cocoons yield up to 800 metres of raw silk thread each, compared to 1,200 metres for cocoons in Japan.

Although India is one of the world’s largest silk producers, Manipur accounts for just a fraction of the 15,000 tonnes it produces annually. By 2002-03 (April-March) the project leaders aim to increase Manipur’s annual silk output to 328 tonnes from 202 tonnes. Sericulture accounted for 1.48 per cent of the state’s real GDP of $378.9m in 1995-96. That proportion is likely to rise sharply once the industry takes hold. Villagers who have land suitable for mulberry trees were invited to take part in the project. About 8,690 hectares (ha) has already been selected to grow mulberry trees. The project has encouraged villagers to raise hybrid worms and trees with more leaves. The sericulture project is still in its infancy but project officials are already thinking about the second phase, which will expand production further and look at the processing of the silk.

In Manipur, there are no units to twist silk into thread for weaving. Raw silk is sent to Mumbai or Karnataka. OECF is due to inject more cash into the industry, but officials fear Japan’s sanctions on India after the nuclear tests could delay the additional loan. “This is the first foreign funding Manipur has ever received in its history,’’ Mr Sharma said. “If we are successful with this project, I think it will make it easier for us to get funding for other projects from abroad.’’ —Reuters


Source : Economic Times. May 17. 1999


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