India Interior

Why they go round the mulberry bush

Sarita Brara | Updated on June 28, 2019

Spinning a silken future: Last year, dried cocoons fetched the beneficiaries of the sericulture scheme an average price of ₹850 per kg   -  Sarita Brara

Nurtured at every turn: The women farmers are given tips on planting the mulberry saplings   -  Sarita Brara

The beneficiaries are selected with the help of panchayati raj institutions and through awareness camps, especially in areas where mulberry trees already grow.

A subsidised sericulture scheme helps uplift women farmers of Himachal Pradesh

Five years back, Manorama, wife of a daily wage labourer, came to know about a scheme to earn money by developing silkworm larvae into cocoons.

Eager for extra income to provide for the education of her three children, Manorama, who hails from Batal Village in Kunihar block of Solan district in Himachal Pradesh, took up the challenge.

She had to pay 10 per cent of the cost of a breeding iron stand for rearing silkworm larvae and keep vigil till they developed into cocoons, a process that takes 20 days to a month, depending on the breed of the silkworm and the prevailing temperature.

Today, Manorama is able to earn around ₹15,000 through breeding silkworms twice a year. Fresh from a five-day training in sericulture in Nalagarh this month under the beneficiary empowerment programme, Manorama is looking forward to increase her earnings in the coming years.

“We were given tips on how to properly plant the mulberry saplings so that they do not dry up, when to use manure, and how to rear the larvae for getting good -quality cocoons.”

At present, 10 women in this tiny village near Arki are engaged in sericulture under a highly-subsidised government scheme. Five of them, who fall under Scheduled Caste category, are going to get a 15 by 20 feet shed built at a cost of ₹1.2 lakh (90 per cent of the cost will be borne by the government). This means that they will have more space to rear silkworms and the process will not be confined to the rearing stand that has to be kept inside the house. These enterprising women, including Manorama, are also getting 300 mulberry saplings during the rainy season (200 have already been provided to each one of them).

“As of now, I just have about 50 mulberry plants for rearing the larvae. Once these 300 plants start growing foliage, and with a huge shed to breed these larvae, I am sure I will be able to raise my income substantially.”

At present, barring a few women like Manorama, most women in the village pay ₹500 to ₹1,000 to get mulberry foliage from others in the village as they do not get enough from their own plants. Champa, who is also a ward member of Batal Panchayat, says it is difficult to feed the larvae for 20 to 30 days from the few mulberry plants she has. But with the onset of monsoon and the fresh set of plants provided to them, Champa and others have reason to be optimistic.

Kanta too is looking forward to having a shed of her own and more plants. With just three bighas of land, Kanta has to work as a farm hand to earn a living. Her husband takes up odd jobs on a day-to-day basis.

Training and tools

“The government scheme is 100 per cent for women, meant to provide some additional income to farmers living on the margins.” The work does not require any special skill and family members too can help. Moreover, it does not interfere with the farmer’s daily agriculture routine, says Baldev Chauhan, Deputy Director, HP Industries (Sericulture).

Under the highly subsidised scheme, besides the rearing stand, the beneficiaries get larvae at a nominal price, disinfectants free of cost, bed cleaning nets and spray pumps, as cleanliness is paramount for the proper growth of the silkworms. Bed disinfectant kits are given to the beneficiaries to safeguard against diseases.

“We buy the silkworm seeds (eggs) at the rate of ₹700 per ounce but charge a nominal ₹80 from the farmers. The department rears the seeds (eggs) into larvae and then gives it to the identified farmers.”

Door-to-door agents are deployed for disinfection before the larvae are provided, para workers monitor the proper growth of the larvae and the cleanliness being maintained at the beneficiary houses.

The beneficiaries are selected with the help of panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) and through holding awareness camps, especially in areas where mulberry trees already grow. The cocoons are graded into three categories. Last year, dried cocoons fetched the beneficiaries an average price of ₹850 per kg.

In Dehra division of Kangra district, some farmers have been able to earn as much as ₹2-2.5 lakh annually. The average income generated annually is in the range of ₹15,000-18,000 per beneficiary.

The scheme is becoming popular day by day. In Solan district, in 2012-13, there were 37 farmers; today 585 are part of this income-generating programme, all of them women. Chauhan says that so far, over 10,480 farmers in the State (mainly women) have benefited from the initiative that has generated an annual income of ₹10 crore for them, with hardly any investment. Mulberry trees were traditionally grown in Bilaspur district but now sericulture activities have spread to 10 districts of the State, including the latest, Kinnaur.

For the hard working women farmers in Himachal Pradesh, the scheme means extra money in hand and a hope to generate more income as the government explores new areas to expand sericulture to give a boost to marginal farmers.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on June 28, 2019

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