Silk farmers in Kenya have a reason to smile following the establishment of a sericulture research centre at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation in Thika.
Dr Muo Kasina, the centre director, said it was formed early this year with the aim of stabilising the growth of the silk farming sub-sector in the Kenya, which is still low at the moment.
The centre is aimed at developing sericulture research in the country. The silk sector, he says, is unique globally because it is a luxurious commodity in which the market in never enough.
“The biggest market in the world is in Japan, UK and France. Though production in Kenya is non-existent, the country still has the potential of getting into the global market. Silk farming will work well if farmers were to form cooperatives,” Kasina added while making a presentation during the Kenya Science Journalists Congress in Nairobi.
He said the only silk being produced in the country goes to the cottage industry and it is still not enough. Currently, silk farmers only sell cocoons, which Kasina says can be processed to raw silk to give a farmer more money.
Mulberry is grown in Kakamega, Homa Bay and neighbouring counties such as Kiambu, Kitui, Machakos, Makueni and Meru. Over 600 farmers practice sericulture in Kenya but currently less than 50 have silkworms. Annual production is less than two metric tons of dried cocoons while the national potential is over 10,000 metric tons.
He says a kilogramme of cocoons sells at Sh450 compared to one kilogramme of raw silk that could fetch a farmer Sh5,000. “Silk farming is a major business venture and farmers cannot go wrong in it. The silk worms take 30 days to mature and the mulberry will stay in the farm for about 30 years or more,” he adds.
Former agriculture cabinet secretary Felix Koskei is quoted as saying that Kenya has suitable climate and cheap labour for mulberry growing and silk worm rearing. To unlock the great potential in the sub-sector, there is need to look at the value chain and identify unique challenges in every segment.