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Status of sericulture

The sericulture is a common culture of Black, Caspian seas and Central Asia region for thousands of years. Nowadays, sericulture is tried to be kept alive since it is accepted as a cultural product as well as for its economic values. S ericulture is one of the important potential agro-industry in the Black, Caspian seas and Central Asia region, now that the increasing number of farmers, i.e. approximately 500000 households are involved in order to generate their income resources, and another about 3 million people are engaged in the silk processing industry and trading. S ericulture is going on as an economic, cultural and traditional sub-branch of agriculture. It is a common status of most of the countries in the region that sericulture industry activities have been recently declined to be in a critical stage of disappearing or inactivating to a serious extent, mainly due to the rapid change of political and economic structure with introduction of free-market system and the lack of potential internal and external market development. The major statistical figures manifest that the total area under mulberry have decreased from around 115000 ha to 80000 ha, or 1.4 times, while the number of mulberry trees decreased from 400 million to 200 million or 2 times. The silkworm egg production dropped from 2.5 million boxes to about 800000 or 3 times and the decline was especially sharp after 1992. The number of sericultural households decreased from about 1 million to half a million or 2 times. The decreased number of mulberry trees and sericultural households led to a big decline of the fresh cocoon production, namely from 50000 t in 1984 to 25000 t in 2002, or 2 times. However the fresh cocoon decrease during that period was not equal in the different countries. For example, while Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine decreased their fresh cocoon production from 21 to 100 times, or completely stopped the production, in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan the fresh cocoon production decreased about 1.5 times only, and the amount of production remained comparatively stable in Greece (however at a very low level) due mainly to the subsidies, provided by the EU. The biggest cocoon producer was and still remains Uzbekistan . However in the past (1984) the share of Uzbekistan in the total fresh cocoon production in the region was 67 %, while presently this country produces 82 % of the cocoons in the region. At present the two comparatively big fresh cocoon producers in the Black, Caspian seas and Central Asia region are Uzbekistan with about 20000 t/year and Tajikistan with 3000 t, whose production accounts to more than 90 % of the total production of the region. Similar is the situation around the raw silk production, which dropped from about 5000 t in 1984 to only 1500 t in 2002 or 3 times. The main reasons for cocoon/raw silk production decline during the recent decade were: appearance of new synthetic fibres and their huge distribution in the international market; instability of cocoon and silk price s particularly within the local markets; rapid urbanization due to heavy industrialization; gain of new crops, especially industrial ones like cotton, sugar beet, maize and others, which provided higher incomes and lead to the replacement of the mulberry plantations; l oss the traditional silk markets in Russia and Baltic countries and difficulties in exploring new markets ; i n the silk carpet producing countries-the difficulties on exportation of silk carpet and also smuggling very cheap silk yarn; l ow raw silk quality produced, due to lower cocoon quality and out of the date old silk reeling machines and technology ; as farmers training system could not be established under the new economic conditions, cocoon farmers carried on the rearing in traditional methods that caused a lot of production losses; selling cheap and low quality carpets especially coming from Far East with prevalence of traditional Persian designs could not be prevented. As the genius hand woven silk carpets didn't have a chance to compete with the others owing to their high prices, many companies left the market , expanded usage of machine-made or other synthetic rugs;

As main silk exporters could be identified Uzbekistan , Tajikistan and Turkey . According to the statistical data presented Uzbekistan exported silk products in a total value of 16.273 million US$ in 2004. The total approximate value of the silk export of the region in 2004 is about 600 million US $. In the group of main silk importers could be included Greece , and Turkey . Greece is the biggest silk fabrics and garment importer, while Turkey is the biggest raw silk importer with an approximate annual amount 180-200 t. By value Greece imports approximately 86 % of the silk in the region. Turkey appears to be simultaneously importer of raw silk and exporter of silk carpets, while Greece sells all the imported/locally produced silk fabrics and garment at the local market. Recently Azerbaijan started to increase the silk production, aiming at exploring new export markets. However the other region countries presently neither have any significant cocoon/raw silk production, nor have any silk fabrics and garments production, requiring silk import. Besides, the local silk market in all the region countries, excluding Greece it is too small now.

The total number of mulberry accessions available in the region is 961 , from 22 different countries . The number of silkworm accessions is 800 , originated from 20 different countries. However these genetic resources are not distributed uniformly between the different countries , namely Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan have the richest sericultural germplasm . Some advanced methods in mulberry and silkworm selection such as polyploidy and mutation mulberry breeding, breeding sex limited for egg color and larval marking silkworm strains, tolerant to adverse rearing conditions silkworm breeds, breeding parthenogenetic /androgenetic lines, and control the sex-balance have been developed in the region.

Now t he sericulture development in the Black, Caspian seas and Central Asia region countries faces a range of old and new constraints in keeping the productivity and sustainability and in gaining access to better markets for the cocoons, silk and silk allied products. These constraints can be summarized as follows: too low raw silk quality produced, resulting in fail to receive the standard price in the markets and to loose existing markets; lack of ways and means to be accessed to potential markets for the producers, difficulty with accessible approach to suppliers, traders, technical advisers, means for communication; dependence of the sericultural final products on export; considering their high price the domestic usage is quite limited, therefore the international trade fluctuations can not be modified by internal planning completely; the existing sericulture research institutes/stations have old and/or insufficient laboratory facilities and equipment to support the industry; there are crop loses due to mulberry and silkworm diseases; low production of mulberry leaves combined to a high demand of labour for the cultivation and especially for the harvesting; part of mulberry fields have been destroyed and new plantations are not established; the silkworm breeds are genetically not up - graded, so that in some of the region countries the quality of presently available silkworm eggs do not meet the international standard; most of the silkworm rearing houses and equipment are unsuitable, leading to low cocoon yield per box and too high labour expenses which could result in high production cost; t he production technologies at the field level are still more relying on the traditional technology and management system thus not to be commercially oriented operation; chemicals and pesticides are started to be used in agriculture and as a result mulberry trees are affected negatively; because the silkworms under rearing are poisoned, farmers abandoned fresh cocoon production; a s the production per farmer is limited to 1.5 – 2 boxes of silkworm eggs, they use their homes as rearing house, thus production and gained income is always very low and the producers abandon sericulture as they can earn much more income from alternative agriculture products; as the movement from rural areas to urban areas can not be prevented, young generation did not take part in fresh cocoon production and this is an obstacle for increasing production quantity; producers could not be encouraged for cocoon rearing as a result of false price politics which disables the stability in cocoon prices; lack of appropriate skilled trainers, relevant technical advice and training materials and possibilities, lack of dissemination of new research information; weakness of producer organizations; lack of strong cooperation from international organizations; poor coordination between sericulture and other sectors such as forestry, health, environment in order to be additionally supported by the government, NGOs and private sector; lack of effective polices for protection sericulture industry.

Even the cocoon/silk production declined about two times during the recent decade, the Black, Caspian seas and Central Asia region still remains the third world producer, having very high potential for increase the silk production in the near future by revival of the sericultural industries because of the following factors: Very long tradition and experience in sericulture : In the countries of Black, Caspian seas and Central Asia region the sericulture industry was adopted around 4000-1500 years ago through the so called “great silk road”. These countries used to produce annually more than 50000 t of fresh cocoons and about 5000 t raw silk until the end of 1980's what was approximately 10 % of the total world production ; Availability of more than 200 million middle/high – stem mulberry trees in the region as valuable natural resources which are enough for an annual production of about 50000 ton of fresh cocoon ; Favorable climatic conditions and s till comparatively low farmer's incomes thus allowing to produce high quality and cheap cocoons and raw silk; Some of those countries are members or candidates for joining to E uropean U nion , where some subsidies for stimulation of sericulture development are provided by the European commission ; There are comparatively well developed sericulture science, such as rich mulberry and silkworm genetic resources, own production of mulberry saplings and silkworm eggs ; t here is an increasing demand within the European countries for natural and biological products. The economical standards of the European population permit the consumption of such products even in high prices and it is apparent that silk items every day get deeper in the life of the European consumer. The region is nearby the big European silk market and could be created as an alternative supplier ; S ome silk companies from the region already succeeded in finding new markets , i n some of those countries foreign investors, having safe markets for their silk products have already been attracted. The region is also a traditional producer of world famous silk handcraft items, such as silk carpets and rugs.
The following recommendations for sericulture industry revival in the region could be given: A possible regional project financed by FAO/other donors could help to those countries in rehabilitation of the good contacts and cooperation between some of them existing before and to establish new contacts and cooperation with other countries from the region, China, India, Korea, Thailand etc. Such a project could also help to exchange sericulture genetic resources between the participating countries and to obtain some new silkworm lines from Japan and Korea . Since the sericulture research institutes in those countries have selected new highly productive silkworm pure lines and F 1 hybrids the governments should make efforts to adopt the new silkworm lines in the field as parents for production of commercial silkworm eggs. The exchange of mulberry and silkworm germplasm between those countries will facilitate the initiation, expansion or rehabilitation of silkworm and/or mulberry breeding programmes in the recipient countries. Since the region totally has comparatively rich sericulture genetic resources as well as developed breeding science, in the future one of these countries could be chosen as a regional centre for germplasm keeping (conservation), supply with parental silkworm eggs, mulberry saplings, training in the field of mulberry and silkworm germplasm collection, maintenance, conservation and breeding techniques. Those countries could also be used as a source for providing technical assistance, mulberry saplings and silkworm eggs to the newly sericulture developing countries from Africa and the Near East. Organization of governmental extension services with specialized personnel capable to give the appropriate technical support to the silkworm farmers is necessary. Introduction of modern and efficient mulberry cultivation systems is a must. Replacement low-productive varieties with more productive breeds and hybrids of mulberry, replacement less productive high trees of linear plantings with highly productive mulberry plantations should be done gradually . It is required to focus on raising mulberry saplings and these saplings should be distributed to cocoon farmers costing very low prices and farmers are encouraged to establish new mulberry gardens. C entralized incubation, hatching and first 2-3 stages rearing for the young silkworms should be widely adopted at the field level. The governments should make efforts in establishment of a network of demo farms in order to demonstrate the modern and commercially oriented technologies to the sericulture farmers. The governments could provide free of interest loans to those farmers who want to innovate the rearing house and to buy better equipment for silkworm rearing. Instead of mono-cropping of cocoon production, bi-cropping system should be expanded through demonstration farms to increase cocoon productivity per unit of mulberry cultivation in any cases of tree-type or bush type. Successful application of the bi-cropping system could easily increase farmers' income and promote sericulture as an economically viable agro-industry. In order to improve the raw silk quality these countries need first to improve the cocoon quality and secondly to replace the old silk reeling technique with new (or second hand) Japanese, Chinese or Korean fully automatic silk reeling machines. There must be created o rganization of state, cooperative or private mechanisms for the absorption and processing of the produced cocoons. Uzbekistan is a good example for efficient government control of sericulture development. For sericulture sales cooperatives as a production unions Turkey can be shown as a model. The Greek experience in organizing local cocoon purchasing and reeling at a municipality company in Soufli town could also be considered. In order to create some new production areas feasibility studies should be made as early as possible, especially in the regions where national income per person is quite low comparing with the other parts of the country. Taking into the consideration that sericulture is a specific and cultural industry, it is compulsory to keep on taking financial support from government on fresh cocoon farmers. With the help of these financial supports new producers can be encouraged as fresh cocoons purchasing prices will be high in these areas in which income level is very low. With these new income sources, movement from rural to urban areas may be prevented. If the countries of the region such as Uzbekistan , Azerbaijan , Bulgaria , Romania , Georgia etc. can meet the standard requirement, Greece and Turkey will be a good market for their raw silk. Greece , Bulgaria and Romania could play an important role by developing of some silk product processing and distribution centres and acting as a bridge between E.U. and other countries of the Black, Caspian Seas and Central Asia Region, by moving their raw materials to processing and also moving their silk products to the promising European market. Inventory studies on handicrafts should be finished rapidly. An organization for handicrafts products marketing should be established. Furthermore in villages, training courses should be carried out with applications on carpet weaving. Realization of marketing researches of the internal and external market for expansion of volumes of silk production export, maintenance of competitiveness for increase of silk industry production in the world market.

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