The larva of eri silkworm, Philosomia ricini, leaves a small aperture at one end while spinning the cocoon. The mature, adult moth comes out of the cocoon by cutting open the thin film of fibres covering the aperture. For this reason, eri silk is commonly known as mooh kata silk or cut-by-mouth silk. The cocoon is processed into yarn only after the adult has emerged from it alive. The silk obtained is non-violent in nature and is, therefore, also known as ahimsa silk.
The idea of introducing ericulture into Gujarat was put forward first by Sashikant Shukla, formerly a textile trainer in a textile mill at Kalol. Initially, SRISTI helped him look for relevent contacts, get eggs from Assam and tie the loose ends together. Later, Gujarat Grassroots Innovations Augmentation Network (GIAN) took up the challenge to help him accomplish his mission. The then Inspector General of Police, Vijay Singh, decided to join hands with GIAN and agreed to provide rearing facilities at the Sabarmati open jail campus. Technical guidance came from the director of the Central Silk Board in Assam, B.K.Singh, and from Rabindra Upadhayaya, President of the Khadi Gram Prayog Samiti.
The eri moths soon completed their full life cycle and laid eggs in the rearing centre at the Sabarmati open jail. These eggs produced in Gujarat were used to spread the activity further into other centres. Today there are four centres in the three districts of Sabarkantha, Ahmedabad and Kutch where rearing is being carried out. Four successive generations of larvae have already been reared and the fifth generation is going on. Rearing has been under normal conditions and the experience suggests that the technique involved is simple and can be easily learnt. In two of the centres, women were directly involved in the rearing. They acknowledged that they could easily combine this activity with household chores. A large part of the credit for the success goes to the dedicated work by Yogesh Yoshi, a convict looking after the experiment at the jail, and Jamini Boro, a lady from Assam rearing the larvae at the Khadi Gram Prayog Samiti in Ahmedabad.
The cocoons are usually white in colour. By some freak chance of nature, a few saffron cocoons were also produced in one of the centres. This was very interesting and these cocoons have been kept separately for further experiments. In the quest for producing value added products, the cocoons were dyed in different colours and garlands were made of them. At present, cocoons have a market price of around Rs 150 per kg. Pure eri fabric in the market is priced at around Rs 250 per metre. One kg cocoons can be processed into four or five metres of eri fabric. In the long run, shawls and pieces of cloth for making kurtas can be manufactured locally from eri yarn in Gujarat. Value added products including hosiery items, towels and blankets can also be manufactured from eri yarn. The dry and arid parts of Gujarat have vast areas under castor (Ricinus communis) cultivation. Although the leaves account for much of the biomass of the plant, there is no use for them at present. Castor plants take almost five to six months to mature, with hardly any intermittent income. In ericulture, the time taken for cocoon formation is short. Two to four cycles of eri moths can be completed during the growing period of castor. Thus, it would help in providing intermittent returns to the farmers during the long gestation period of the castor crop. Past studies from Assam indicate income exceeding Rs 10,000 per acre per year to the farmers from cocoons alone. The fabric made from eri yarn has traditional and aesthetic values and is associated with non-violence. These aspects of the fabrics will no doubt render a premium market with high export potential. Technological improvements are, however, necessary to upgrade the quality of the fabric further. It is time for entrepreneurs to step in and take this journey forward.
Honey Bee, 9(4): 16, 1998
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The pictures are from WormSpit.com – a website dedicated to silkworms.