More farmers embrace silkworm farming

Ms Burono a silkworm farmer shows journalists how to use a silk spinning machine used to extract fibre from silkworms. The Government donated the machine to farmers in Ikolomani recently.  [PHOTO: BENJAMIN SAKWA/STANDARD]

By Bryan Tumwa

Farmers in Ikolomani constituency, Kakamega County, are increasingly embracing silkworm farming.

A group of farmers under an organisation in the constituency are promoting the activity through knowledge sharing.

Initially, residents received the new economic activity with skepticism when it was first introduced about a year ago, but because of the economic benefits, more and more farmers have started embracing it.

Farmers have organised themselves in a group called the Iguhu Silk Worms rearing self-help group and according to them, they get higher returns with the worms than when planting maize and beans on small holder farms.

“At first telling farmers to keep caterpillars not only scared them, but it also sounded ridiculous to them. In fact, some associated it with witchcraft,” said Ms Emily Burono, an official of the group.

Recently, the Government through the Kenya Agricultural Production Agri-business Programme bought a silk extracting machine for the group to enable them extract fibre from the worms.

The fibre is then sold to fabric processing factories, which turn the fibre into clothes and other products.

Ms Burono says that on seeing how successful the venture proved for their colleagues, many more farmers began inquiring how they could start keeping their own silk worms.

A kilogramme of silk thread goes for Sh650, which the farmer says is a good amount of money worth the efforts they put in.

“A farmer is supposed to rear between 20,000 to 40,000 worms so as to get six to ten kilogrammes of silk per month. I can honestly say that it is better than planting maize or sugarcane,” said Buruno.

She adds that a farmer is required to plant mullubary trees on the farm from which the worms find their food to last them the entire thirty days of their lifespan.

Harvesting process

“Once we harvest the worms after thirty days, we place them in special trays from where they form cocoons. From there, we extract silk threads which we sell to International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology,” she said.

Remarkably, one thousand mullubary trees are what are needed to feed 20000 worms.

“We advise new farmers to also be careful when venturing into this venture because the worms are very delicate to rear and therefore require special attention all through,” cautioned Burono. John Muyengo, the coordinator of the farmers’ organisation says they are in the process of recruiting more farmers into the group so as to produce more raw materials and in turn increase the commercial viability of the worm.

The mullberry tree is a flowering plants in the family Moraceae, and has between 10–16 species of deciduous trees which grow wild or under cultivation.

The berries produced by the tree provides food for the silkworms for thirty days befor harvesting.

A silkworm’s preferred food is the mulberry leaves.

It is entirely dependent on humans for its reproduction and does not occur naturally in the wild as many would assume since it is a worm.