Karnataka’s Debt Ridden Silk Farmers Wait For Better Prices

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Once among the most profitable farming sectors, sericulture is losing its sheen due to falling prices.

The minister’s announcement turned out to be premature as the state lacked the capacity to back his promise. “The state seems to be doing only foolish things and the centre is supporting only weavers and traders, most of who are in the north, in places like Varanasi. Who do we go to with our issues?” asks Shanta Kumar, a silk farmer from Karnataka’s Davanagere district. India is the second largest producer of silk in the world. Half of India’s silk is produced in Karnataka. Heavy rains in silk producing districts of Ramanagara, Mysuru, Chikballapur and Kolar have filled the silk cocoons with moisture. “The cocoon needs to be dry and soft and not hard like this,” KM Jaffar, a reeler, tells us, pressing a cocoon from a farmer’s produce. “We’ll need up to 10 kilograms of such substandard cocoons to produce one kilo of pure silk. This is leaving us with no profit,” he says. Another reason attributed to the low prices is the 5% GST on silk yarn and fabric. Farmers and reelers say this is passed down the supply chain, because of which they have to bear the extra burden. Farmers also say that silk yarn imported from China is preferred by weavers for its low price and this has put the domestic market in further peril.

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A temporary setback

The State Department of Sericulture and the Central Silk Board (CSB), a statutory body under the Union Ministry of Textiles, say this is only a temporary setback. The CSB is a research and development organisation whose mandate is to provide technical and technological support to the silk industry. “We are constantly working to improve productivity and reduce risk factors and believe the rates should improve again soon,” adds the official. KS Manjunath, commissioner for sericulture development, Karnataka, says that the decline in prices is the result of surplus in supply as well as the excessive rains. “As more and more farmers are getting into sericulture there is a lot of supply of silk cocoons. Silk farmers are getting eight to ten crops in a year now.

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We’re providing subsidies to farmers for setting up rearing houses, medicines for plants and other equipment and are ready to help them in any other way we can,” he says.

Munshi Basaiah, deputy director of sericulture in Ramanagara, concedes that low rates have led to low profit margins for the farmers. “This is where farmers from all over the country get the best prices for their cocoons between February and May, and then August through October. We have sanctioned 52 automatic silk reeling machines which produce world-class silk. Once these machines are up and running, the quality of the silk thread will also improve and both reelers and farmers should get better profits,” he says.

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