The atmospheric conditions and other facilities to rear silk filaments are good in Ethiopia. In Hawassa, Awash Melkassa, and Kombolcha silk rearing is started with good progress. The quality of the cocoons produced in the country is not determined in relation to commercial silk produced in major silk producing countries. So far there was no information available about the basic properties of silk filaments produced, journal of materials stated.
Silk is very soft, lustrous, smooth, strong, and durable than any natural or artificial fiber. The industrial and commercial uses of silk contributed to the silkworm promotion all over the world especially in developing nations. Ethiopia's bimodal rainfall pattern, ambient temperature, and other agro-ecological factors provide a fertile ground for mulberry and caster seed cultivation and silkworm production. Sericulture development of both eri and mulberry silkworms has been introduced into the country very lately. It was initiated by Melkassa Agricultural Research Centre 20 years ago.
However, the technology has been disseminated to beneficiaries since 2001. The SNNP Regional Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development is the first to promote sericulture technology to the rural poor farmers among all the regions. Subsequently related sectors and interested individuals in and around urban areas of Hawassa, Adama, Addis Ababa, Bishoftu, and Bahir Dar are involved in the development silk production program.
Geleta Hailu was born and raised in Derashe Woreda, Gamo Zone, Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR). Geleta, who hails from a farming family, was unable to continue his education beyond the 12th grade due to family capacity. He had to change his jobs, so he went into business. He entered the business for 120 Birr. To expand his small business, he issued business licenses in 1993 and engaged in locally available cereal businesses.
Geleta, at the moment is not in the grain trade but in silk fiber development. This is how he remembers his experience in this development. "I remember the time. It is the summer of 2004. I heard information about silk development technology from Melkassa Research Center. It didn't take me long to try it. I started my silk development on two hundred hectares of land in the city. As soon as I got to work, I tried to gather information from different countries. I have tried to see the experience of China and India. I went to the Melkassa Research Center where I got the information and learned from their experience and asked for support."
In this way, Geleta, who played a role in the development of Silk, continued to strengthen the development until 2006. The government saw his efforts and offered him three hectares of land. Encouraged by the support, he continued his work. According to Geleta, he started the silk fiber development in a traditional way. The traditional process is very tedious and time consuming. But since he grew up to factory stage, he has been able to make his work more efficient. On top of being benefited over time from the sector, he has also created job opportunities for others as well.
The sector has also become a source of income by exporting its products and generating foreign exchange for the country. There is an opportunity to establish the industry in other African countries on behalf of Ethiopia. This can be achieved with the help of modern equipment, especially from the process of breeding to production. Machineries for drying, spinning and reinforcement are needed to produce the silk fiber to the required level by the textile factories in general.
While explaining the process from farming to production, Geleta said that worms for silk cultivation depend on leaves for their food that is grown on farmlands. The bugs need adequate food and care until they are productive. The breeding ground also requires large areas and manpower. Though the work is machine-assisted, it requires manpower. If not in Ethiopia, as a beginner in silk fiber development, in countries such as India and China, it is possible to allocate the job to different entities to cultivate the plant, exchange food for the worms, and take care of them. In addition to those engaged in agriculture and private suppliers of products from outside, there are more than 60 workers in the factory in spinning, weaving and other related activities. Mostly, the women in charge of their family are also employed in the factory.
Geleta has been in the business for 13 years. He entered the business with a capital of 600,000 Birr. Currently, he has a capital of more than 18 million Birr, including machinery and other assets. The institute works with farmers and youths organized by the association and provides support by training and planting seeds. It is also playing a role in creating market linkages by accepting their products.
Observing Geleta's silk development work, from production to weaving, many comment that it is beyond expectation for any the existence of such activity in the area. It is appreciable development that is being done by adding value. Cloth woven from mango and Moringa leaves color attracts attention. Because of the result is silk and value added, a scarf can cost up to 2,000 Birr.
The factory now has the capacity to produce 80 kilograms of yarn per month, but this is not enough, he said. The recipient is Sabahar, an organization based in Addis Ababa. It could not meet even a quarter of the company's needs. The company imports most of it from India. A company in Japan has also failed to find satisfactory respond to its request for the silk fiber. There is a limited capacity to meet the wide range of domestic and foreign needs. "Government assistance is needed to build capacity.
There is no policy on silk development in Ethiopia. As a result, it is not possible to get a bank loan. Not enough land is provided. The 300 hectares of land I am working on simply resembles a demonstration, not enough to a large scale production. We are now producing with the leaves of strawberries and gooseberries, but more can be produced. It is a dream to develop silk for foreign trade on this small land," he said. Being a person that observed experience of silk development in India and China, Geleta is optimistic, one day, he will reach a point where his vision to make Ethiopia prominent in silk fiber development.
BY BACHA ZEWDIE