Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)
West Bengal Fourth Outreach Meeting
Murshidabad District, West Bengal, August 10, 2005
GRANITE team of West Bengal organised their fourth outreach meeting, in association with Palsa Pally Unnayan Samity (PPUS), a local NGO working on health & nutrition in the region, at Kutubpur village of Nabagram block in Murshidabad District of West Bengal on August 10, 2005. The Outreach Meeting focused the issues related to silkworm rearing which is the main livelihood of the region. The team also took this opportunity to meet S K Chakraborty, and Pradip Kumar Saha, Deputy Director and Senior Research Officer of Silkworm Seed Production Centre (SWSPC) respectively. SWSPC is a Central Silk Board undertaking established to study the technicalities associated with this profession.
The objective of the Outreach Meeting was to get an insight into the concerns of the silkworm rearing farmers in the era of globalisation and free trade.
GRANITE team identified PPUS, an NGO working in Murshidabad district, West Bengal, as helpful associate in organising the Outreach Meeting. The organisation is operational in 11 blocks of the district under Integrated Health & Nutrition Programme (INHP) programme from CARE-India, and also implementing the Reproductive & Child Health -II (RCH) programme.
Khairul Anam Mirza, Secretary of PPUS took interest in the activities under the GRANITE project and highly appreciated the idea of organising an Outreach Meeting with the silk producers of the region. PPSU arranged the meeting in a school at Kutubpur village. There were 52 participants from five nearby villages. The female participants were large in numbers as they have been actively involved in silkworm rearing.
The meeting was held in two phases:
- In-depth Interviews
- Focus Group Discussion
- In order to identify the role and responsibility of the government related to silk production in West Bengal, the GRANITE team, first met S K Chakraborty, the Deputy Director, SWSPC before going in for the Outreach Meeting followed by an interview with Pradip Kumar Saha, the Senior Research Officer. The interviews highlighted the following points-
- Both the officials informed that major activity of SWSPC is to provide disease free laying (i.e., DFL: 100 eggs = 1 laying) of the silkworm to the farmers. Under the Central Silk Board, there are two bodies, a) Central Sericulture Research & Training Institute (CSRTI) and b) Silkworm Seed Production Centre. While CSRTI carries out research and development (R&D), SWSPC undertakes the extension activities.
- SWSPC along with the State Sericulture Department and some private producers provide the silkworm eggs to the farmers. The government sources supply only 14 percent of the demand for silkworm eggs, so the farmers are forced to rely on the private producers.
- In order to cater the additional demand for the silkworm eggs, government has also trained some individuals as silkworm egg producers and provided them the license. These individuals are called Licensed Seed Producers (LSP). However, the unlicensed silkworm egg sellers are also present in the market.
- The quality of the eggs provided by private producers is inferior compared to that supplied by the government. This is due to certain technical drawbacks faced by the private producers like non-availability of microscope and other instruments.
- The Indian silk is competing fairly well with its Chinese counterpart. Although, the silk produced in India is mostly (about 85 percent) consumed domestically, but currently, the quantum of Indian silk export is showing an increasing trend.
- Existing quality problem of the silk in West Bengal is mainly attributed to the climatic factors.
- The next interaction was with Abdur Rezzaque, a local farmer, who briefed about the life cycle of the silkworm including the key factors that should be kept in mind to upgrade the quality of the silk produced.
Meeting at Kutubpur
- Khairul Anam Mirza greeted the participants, especially thanked the women participants for their presence at the Outreach Meeting. The participants were from Chandraghat, Kachubari, Bakrabandh, Sealdanga, Bakipur and Kutubpur villages of Nabagram Block.
- Dalia Dey of CUTS-Calcutta Resource Centre (CUTS-CRC) briefed the participants about the objective of the meeting forecasting the outcomes expected from it.
- The participants discussed the process of buying silkworm eggs from government extension officers and the also from the private producers. The farmers put forward their requisition to the local Technical Service Centre (TSC) of the government and an advance deposit to procure the eggs. In case of procuring the same form private counterparts, they have to follow an identical procedure.
- Sometimes the farmers face tough time, as they lag behind due to delay between the date of requisition placement and the time of supply as the rearing time starts. And when they get the supply, favourable season is over. This hampers the quality of produce. Added to these, often the farmers get silkworm eggs in lesser number than their requirement.
- The quality of silk depends mainly on the quality of eggs, skill of the farmers, the weather conditions such as temperature, humidity level etc. The farmers confirmed that there is not much quality difference between the government supplied eggs and those supplied by private producers. But what really matters is the price of the egg. The private producers cannot supply eggs at the same price as the government does. So definitely the input cost increased as they buy eggs from the open market.
- The high cost of fertilizers is inversely affecting the farmers. They are mostly using high yielding variety of the mulberry trees for feeding the silkworms, which require a considerable amount of fertilizers. So a higher investment in fertilizers increases the price of the silk produced. Hence, they are unable to sell their produce at a competitive rate.
- The women folk are highly involved in silk rearing procedure. As the production activities mostly take place in-house it becomes easier for them to take part. Men mainly cultivate the mulberry plants and women take care of the silkworm till the reeling of the fibre takes place. Women Self-Help-Groups (SHGs) are functional in that area also.
- The farmers reported that most of them had received the training about a decade ago and also received a stipend during that period. The concerned government department had arranged for the training and the local panchayat recommended the names of the farmers. However, the farmers opined that they are capable of producing good quality cocoon but not good quality silk.
- There are various programmes from the government departments related to the the farmers’ problems. The last programme, as they recalled was held a few months back. Through these programmes, the departments have also from time to time disseminated information (theoretical) about the new techniques of silk rearing. But the farmers wanted the hands-on training on such techniques. The adaptation of new technique will definitely increase both the volume and quality of production.
- The farmers have no grievance against the lack of bank loans. They accepted that most of the credit holders are not repaying their loans. Under these circumstances, it is becoming impossible for the banks to sanction further loans.
- The farmers market their produce in the nearby local market situated at a place called Panchgram. They sell their produce to the local traders who stock the materials and sell it at the time of high demand.
- While comparing the Bangalore silk with Murshidabad silk, the farmers raised certain points. They argued it is not due to skill but due to climatic conditions that Bangalore silk is of superior quality than silk produced in West Bengal. Bangalore gets more favourable weather conditions (temperature = 20-30oC and humidity = 70-80 percent) for growing silk throughout the year. On the contrary, in West Bengal weather is extreme, which hampers the quality. In addition, the farmers at Bangalore get advantages of a well-organised silk exchange market. The participants at the Outreach Meeting emphasised the necessity of silk exchange market in the region for enhancing marketing facility.
- The farmers asserted that they are facing stiff competition with silk from China entering the markets. They even reported illegal transportation of Chinese Silk across the border.
- In the context of production of quality silk the farmers informed that those who are reeling lower quality silk can produce more in lesser time. The price difference between higher and lower grade silk is around Rs 25 – 30 per kg. However, when the volume of production is much higher, the lower grade silk is yielding better revenue for the farmers compared to the good quality silk. Hence, the farmers are getting attracted toward producing lower grade (due to high income) than the quality.
The Outreach Meeting highlighted some very important points. Firstly, supply chain should be strengthened to cater the demand for silkworm eggs keeping in mind the seasonal factors. Secondly, specialised training of the farmers, especially women, is required and that should be on targeted phases of production such as rearing, reeling etc. Thirdly, establishment of silk exchange market may solve the marketing problem of the farmers to a larger extent. Fourthly, administration should be careful about the illegal entrance of Chinese Silk into the market. And finally, channelisation of earnings from export to the farmers may change their attitude and be competitive in the market.