Jharkhand's thriving Silk industry, helps adivasis

Written by: Abdul Nisar
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Ranchi, Dec.4 (ANI): That Jharkhand is a land of immense natural bounty, of mineral wealth, populated largely by tribal communities is known to many. What is not so well-known is that it home to a thriving silk industry, producing bales of the wonder yarn, this organic fibre.

Silk production is a wonderfully 'eco-friendly' industry. It leads to the growth and maintenance of rather than cut them. This is what the silk worms feed on. Basically the silk worms from which emerge the cocoons need plenty of greenery, the right temperature to breed. In Jharkhand it is in the heavily forested regions where groves of Saal and Aasan trees provide this nourishment to the silk worms.

'Silk' actually is the generic name within which you have varieties depending on the silk worms and the trees they feed on. In Jharkhand it is the 'Tussar ' production, which has caught on as viable economic activity, not only as a product generation but providing of livelihoods to hundreds of 'adivasis' in the villages. It is essentially labour intensive, a cottage industry which in effect feeds the 'mill' or 'factory' model of production 'Tussar' has a muted lustre, more like a 'matt' rather than a 'glossy' finish and is highly coveted by the garments and fashion industry across the country and abroad.

The government has been pro- active in enabling this industry to grow. It launched a programme called 'Resham Doot' which has a mind-boggling 40 pilot projects for tussar production, which engages around 60,000 families many of them women who earn upto Rs.4, 000-5000/- per month. For the adivasis who are happiest in the forest, it is a home-grown industry which does not displace them. Jharkhandi Rai of Saraiyahat, Dumka district, says "I planted Arjun plants on about two acres of land. And then I bred Tussar worms on these plants. The cocoon or 'Kokun' as it is called in the local tounge on these plants have grown. Today, businessmen visit villages to buy Kokun." Rai's five children have been raised on the earnings from these Arjun trees!

Muhammd Mustafa Ansari is another silk producer and he has direct access to the market. Ansari, produced 13,500,00 quintals kokun in his first crop and there has been no looking back. Then there are women like Chunni Kisku and Saraswati Devi who have got good returns for their labour. They have ingeniously combined it with other agricultural work, which provides their bread and butter with the silk production work providing the jam! The converse could be true as well. Essentially both these activities flow into each other in terms of agricultural seasons, not crossing each other's paths, coexisting as it were. Women say that they do this work after rice plantation during rain, at the end of Aghan or Poos month. What has worked for them and indeed many of the other silk breeders in the region is the availability of technical training for commercial worm breeding. Thus from merely being 'hands' in the industry, they have become 'entrepreneurs'.

This near idyllic situation has risen out of the foresight and dynamism of some stellar government servants. Mr. Virendra Kumar, IFS who was posted as Special Secretary to Industries Department in 2005-2009 was amongst the first who realized the vast potential of this activity to create wealth and immense livelihood opportunities for the locals. This was then seriously taken up by the Department of Industries, JharkCraft that went all out to promote the industry. Indeed it is actively seeking and sustaining a network of sales and promotions has been a key factor in sustaining the industry and keeping hundreds of home-fires burning. The state has entered into a MoU with Handloom and Handicraft Corporation, Government of India. Many state emporia in metro cities stock 'Tussar' and several firms source this silk for export mainly to Singapore and China How a humble cottage industry which is totally non-polluting and labour-intensive has become an entity in the national and international market.

The item is a foreign exchange earner and the state is third largest silk producing state in the country. In 2008-09, Jharkhand produced 400 metric tones of Tussar and is now chasing a target of 700 metric tonnes to contribute to the national target of 18,450 metric tonnes. There are 75,000 looms in the state, most of them government owned.

The silk production consists of several stages and what is heartening that Jharkcraft has a role to play throughout this phased production. In Godda district, Santhal paragana there are weavers clusters and Jharkcraft has been instrumental in providing training to around 10,000 weavers to weave cloth from the silk thread. Even before this stage are a slew of activities which involve the drawing out filaments from each cocoon, meshing them together to make the silk thread. The reeling and spinning of yarn also absorbs much of the labour force. Then there are units who make dresses which are also backed by training and marketing by Jharkcraft. While the markets are growing, so are the forests! More trees are being planted and cared for. Kokun production is playing a role in sustaining and expanding Jharkhand's green wealth!

There is a lesson to be learnt in the flourishing silk industry in Jharkhand, according to Charkha Development Communication Network. It is possible to contribute to growth in a substantial way by nurturing cottage industries. What is more, is its singular and salutary effect on livelihoods of rural communities? They can continue to remain on their lands, engage in other agricultural activities and yet learn a new skill and engage with a home-grown industry which fetches them another income. In some cases, even make a transition to actually become a 'producer' rather than hired labor. Hemlaal Mumu, Minister of Industries, Jharkhand, says that one cannot ignore the role of Tussar industry in creating employment opportunities in the state.

This is an example, which can extend beyond the forests of Jharkhand, beyond the silk industry and beyond the state. Essentially it needs political will backed by a sound understanding of the convergence between societal good, economic growth and environmental protection. By Shailendra Sinha (ANI)

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