EghtesadOnline: More than 28,000 boxes of hybrid silkworm eggs were distributed among silk farmers, from which 850 tons of raw silk cocoons worth 200 billion rials ($5 million) were produced in the current Iranian year (started March 21).
‘This registered an 8% decline and an over 5% rise in weight and value respectively,” Ali Asghar Dadashpour, the head of Sericulture Expansion Center with the Ministry of Agriculture, told Financial Tribune.
“The reason behind the fall in production is the disease that spread in some farms across the country during the production season, which include the first six months of the year (spring and summer). And the reason for the increase in the value of cocoons is the market’s thirst for the high-quality silk derived from these cocoons.”
At present, he says, Iran is the world’s eighth biggest country in sericulture, after China, India, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Brazil, Vietnam and North Korea.
“Iran imported about 95 tons of dried cocoons worth $1.14 million last year (March 2016-17), registering a 48% and 57.5% decline in weight and value respectively compared with the previous year. Moreover, 393 tons of silk threads worth close to $11.4 million were imported over the same period, indicating a 9.5% and 5.8% growth year-on-year.”
Sericulture Capacity in Job, Value-Added Creation
Sericulture or silk farming has been practiced since ancient times in Iran, the official said, adding that at present close to 18,000 households in the country are active in the field.
“This is only the number of people engaged in the production of cocoons while sericulture is an area of activity that creates a value chain.”
It generates numerous direct and indirect jobs, he said, especially for the rural population, beginning with providing the raw material such as mulberry leaves on which the silkworm feed.
The industrial and services components include the drying and reeling of cocoons in domestic workshops or factories. After that comes the production of silk threads used in the weaving of carpets and production of apparel, shawls, scarves and different kinds of handicrafts. At each step, value-added is generated.
Dadashpour said the center annually distributes silkworm eggs in boxes, each of which weigh around 13 grams and contain about 24,000 eggs, each of which will evolve into a silkworm if the rearing processes are carried out properly.
After that, the worms enter the mounting phase where they spin around themselves a raw silk cocoon weighing between 2 and 2.2 grams. From each cocoon, between 1,000 and 1,200 meters of silk thread are derived.
“In rural areas, each family can handle up to 3 boxes. For this, a 60-square-meter plot of land and 700 kilos of mulberry leaves are needed for each box. Based on the latest reports, there are close to 14,000 hectares of mulberry orchards in Iran,” he said.
Gilan: Iran’s Sericulture Hub
Gilan Province in northern Iran accounts for half of raw cocoon production. Other provinces in which sericulture is practiced include Mazandaran, Golestan, Khorasan Razavi, North and South Khorasan, East Azarbaijan and Isfahan.
The official said that in the current year, silkworm eggs were distributed across 20 provinces.
Since its inception, Sericulture Expansion Center has set guaranteed prices for raw cocoons.
Dadashpour noted that although the set prices are increased every year to a good level, all the cocoons are sold at prices negotiated between producers and buyers.
“During 2001-11, sericulture in Iran was hit hard by neglect and faulty policies. Yet, we are back on track again and the Ministry of Agriculture is eager to expand the activity across the country. An indication of this eagerness is the establishment of Sericulture Expansion Center in 2014 to oversee and support sericulture activities.”
“Some 90% of the silk produced from domestic cocoons are used in the weaving of delicate hand-woven Persian rugs. Yet, the exact amount of our annual domestic demand for cocoons and silk threads is not currently available. This requires bodies like Iran’s National Carpet Center to conduct relevant studies.”
The official said silk and its byproducts such as silk and silkworm powder are used as raw material in pharmaceutical, cosmetics and toiletry industries. In developed countries, new ways of utilizing silk have been adopted, which make the product even more lucrative than before.
Silk powder is used in pharmaceuticals for producing biomedical products and biomaterials as well as vitamins and cardiac and diabetic food supplements.
In the cosmetic industry, it serves as an ideal protein enricher for high quality cosmetics and is applied to a wide range of products to help maintain moisture levels in the skin and prevent dryness. The crystalline structure helps reflect light and in hair care products, it is believed to improve luminance and elastic behavior.
“This is what our next step should be. We must set up startups that could enable us to make use of silk in other industries in the country,” he said.
Dadashpour announced that two silk-related events are scheduled to be held this month in the city of Rasht in Gilan Province: One is Iran’s National Silk Conference at Gilan University on October 19 and another is a four-day Exhibition of Iran’s Silk Capabilities in Khatam-ol-Anbia Complex starting Oct. 17.