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Concern over decline in reproductive capacity of muga silk worms

By Ajit Patowary

GUWAHATI, Dec 3 - The present muga silk worm-related scenario in the State is very grim as the fecundity or the reproductive capacity of the muga silk worm has now come down to around 120 eggs from around 270 eggs per female worm before 1980s, said noted muga researcher Jitul Saikia.

Speaking to this newspaper, Saikia called for a serious social movement to save the State�s muga culture which is inalienably linked with the identity of the indigenous people of Assam. He maintained that the muga worms� fecundity-related development may be attributed to global warming, environmental pollution, etc. This is an indicator of the decline in the reproductive capacity of muga silk worms, which is scientifically called �extinction debt�.

The State is also facing acute shortage of raw muga silk. The State Government�s figures on raw muga silk production seems to be exaggerated, he asserted.

At present, there are around 1,957.421 hectares of som farms in the State as per official figures. This means the State has around 14,680.658 bighas of land under som cultivation. In Lakhimpur district alone, there are around 1,385 hectares of som plantations. One bigha of som cultivation needs 1,000 seeds per crop to produce 300 layings. Thus, the State requires 1,46,80,658 seeds per crop. Hence, for two crops in a year, the State needs around three crore seeds. This is not available today, lamented Saikia.

Again, going by the official figures concerning the area under som cultivation, it becomes evident that only 44.04 metric tonnes (MTs) of raw muga yarn could be produced in a year if disease-free layings (DFLs) are made available to the farmers at the required quantity.

But the official figures of 156.96 MTs of raw muga silk yarn will require 78.48 crore cocoon, which will require an area of 52,325 bighas of land, that is 6,974.79 hectares of land. This will in turn require 5.23 crore seeds, or 1.74 crore DFL per crop.

But the Government is now supplying one-third of the required seeds to the farmers, he said.

It was found during a survey in Dhakuakhana area in 2017-18 that 350 muga farmers of 10 Gaon Panchayats comprising 35 villages could produce only 5,033 cocoons per head per bigha by rearing Jethuwa and Katiya. This means these farmers could produce only one kg of muga yarn or raw muga per bigha per year. Dhakuakhana is one of the few focus areas of the State in relation to muga farming and related fabric production activities.

It was also found that around Rs 21 crore to Rs 30 crore is spent by the Dhakuakhana weavers annually to buy tasar yarn, which is an inferior quality silk compared to muga.

It may be pertinent to mention here that 50-year-old Saikia was a Zoology teacher of North Bank College at Ghilamara and resigned from there in 2010 after serving since 1997 to take up farming on a full-time basis. He is one of the founders of the Wild Silk Society, North East. The co-founders of this society, set up in 2004, are Dr Keshab Chandra Gogoi, Dr Lakhiprasad Hazarika and Debajit Phukan.

The organisation has been undertaking research work on indigenous biodiversity of Assam with stress on the muga sector. Saikia has so far identified 14 wild cultivars/varieties of som plants in Dhakuakhana-Dhemaji area. Som plants are the main host plants of muga silk worm. Other varieties of muga silk worm host plants are Dighalati, Suwalos, etc. He has developed a conservation centre-cum-farm for muga host plants. In recognition of his sterling efforts, he was presented the PPV&FRA Award by the Union Ministry of Agriculture in 2012. The Government of Assam too sent him to China as a member of a delegation of sericulture experts in 2013.

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