Silk production and the testing of medicinal plants on the Boloven Plateau, in the Sekong province
SFE rural development project mainly helps villagers living at a subsistence level to gain knowledge and practical skills in silk production. This development integrates local know-how and appropriate technologies for rural areas. The primary aim is that those participating obtain additional income through the production and sale of silk. This supplement allows families to buy rice, provide their children’s school supplies for and enables them easier access to health care. The second objective is to enhance the role of Lao Women who assume numerous tasks in their families. Silk production is essentially women’s work and allows them to gain knowledge and certain independence.
The climate is favorable for sericulture in this province. Our aim is to provide the necessary training to develop silk thread production. Currently, most of woven silk in Laos is imported, and local demand for quality silk is important.
In this context, the project has a farm school and a dozen Laotian employees competent to train and assist the villagers to create a garden of mulberry trees for breeding and rearing silk worms and for reeling silk from cocoons. For each family trained the SFE provides the necessary equipment such as barbed wire to delineate the mulberry garden and the construction of a farm building. In exchange the family provides the labor. Only then de we supply the family with mulberry plants. Each participating family contributes regularly to a maintenance fund thus ensuring finance is available to eventually replace worn out materials.
This project has so far trained 223 families in 24 villages. It is now trying to make them independent by providing daily individual monitoring, and through training managers of six existing producer groups.
Since 2010 SFE has also led small-scale trials of Artemisia annua and Moringa oleifera. Artemisia is known to fight against malaria and Moringa reduces malnutrition. Due to the lack of market opportunities, the Artemisia trial was not extended to villagers.
News from 2011
2011 was a very busy year with 50 new families trained and equipped.
The selection of new families is based on the following criteria : a minimum area of 1 rai (1600 m2), situated at less than 2 km from their house and at least 2 people in the family available for this work.
For each family selected, SFE is responsible for setting up the mulberry field. The family is entirely responsible for cleaning and preparing the ground and surrounding it with fencing posts. We then provide barbed wire which protects the plants from the numerous animals which freely roam everywhere. Only when all of this has been completed the family receives 1500 mulberry plants that were propagated by cuttings and maintained at the farm school for 6 months.
When the mulberry plantation has been completed a team starts to construct the necessary building. This attracts attention as it covers 16 m2. This is where the silkworms are raised. It must therefore been cleaned regularly and disinfected after each cycle, to limit the spread of disease. Each family receives all the necessary equipment for farming plus a spool, manufactured on the farm. This machine is used for the extraction of raw silk from cocoons.
At the end of the rainy season (early October), there are sufficient leaves on the mulberry trees for SFE to begin training how to rear silkworms. Technicians train families grouped in their respective villages. Each family can raise between 10 000 to 20 000 worms per cycle and do 6 cycles per year. In only21 days, during which they moult four times, these small caterpillars eat no less than 350 kg of mulberry leaves! After these three weeks, the worms stop eating to start forming their chrysalis, which after three days, gives the silk cocoon. Depending on the variety (traditional or hybrid), each caterpillar forms a silk thread from 600 to 1200 m.
SFE is also involved in training for reeling (silk thread extraction). There are several techniques. A manual version is used for cocoons and a semi-traditional mechanism for improved varieties. This is done through the winder provided by SFE. The cocoon is composed of three parts having different qualities. Families are trained in various techniques of reeling and choose what silk qualities they want to produce. Of course the prices also vary ($ 20 to $ 150 / kg). The highest price is paid for the finest thread but that requires top quality thread and higher labor costs. Usually a family can produce 1.5 to 3 kg of raw silk per cycle at an average price of $ 25 / kg. This additional income helps a family considerably since the average annual income of a family in this region is between $ 300 and $ 600. The family can decide to sell the cocoons (3 $ / kg) knowing that with 20 kg of cocoons hybrid, they can obtain 3 kg(on average) of raw silk. They can also sell the leaves of mulberry trees, the fruit, the silkworm droppings, and earn between 30 to $ 50 extra. In all, a family can earn up to $ 125 per cycle working hard in good circumstances.
As well as this, SFE monitors almost daily for families and provides other training (cuttings, pruning, disinfection, reproduction …). The aim is to make families independent and ensure the project is sustainable after the withdrawal of SFE. With this in view producer groups have been set up so enabling producers can organize themselves to buy the various needs and to sell their products. There is an increasing demand for good quality traditional Lao silk, and because of this, prices are rising.
To produce good quality traditional Lao silk requires a long process of monitoring and training. This takes time and requires considerable perseverance because family members have not all been educated and do not always speak Lao (families come from as many as five different ethnic groups).