NORTH LAKHIMPUR, Sept 15 - The Dhakuakhana subdivision of Lakhimpur district has been a major muga growing area of the world. There are one lakh traditional muga farmers in Dhakuakhana growing som (Persea bombycina Kost), the muga food or host plant in an area of about 1,602 hectares of land averaging 0.15 hectare of holding of som plantation per family. These farmer families are involved with reeling, weaving and dying of the muga cloth by traditional devices without any division of labour. Most of their products are made primarily for their domestic use, despite its huge demand in the outside market. They also do not belong to any distinct class of muga producers and are small or marginal farmers.
These small and marginal farmers are conserving this traditional culture and its respective bio-resources through interlinking it with their annual crop cycle unknowingly following the principle of sustainable agriculture. To conserve this traditional practice of producing one of the most exotic fabrics of the world, a silent revolution is taking place in Dhakuakhana subdivision of Lakhimpur district, which is led by a researcher and rural entrepreneur.
Jitul Saikia, of Batomari village near Ghilamora in Dhakuakhana subdivision, who quit his job of professor of Life Sciences in a local college to undertake research on muga silk in 1994, has been working hard to transform this traditional practice into a mode of economic growth as well as conservation of nature.
Saikia, who runs an NGO called Wild Silk North-East, has proposed a unique plan of muga production for rural economic growth to the Government of Assam, which can contribute towards conservation and generating employment.
According to studies by the Wild Silk North-East, the current harvest rate for two commercial crops, pre-seed crop and seed crop for Katia (cultivated during the Assamese month of Kati � October-November) and Jethua (cultivated during the Assamese month of Jeth �May-June) cycle under natural annual agro-climatic conditions of Dhakuakhana subdivision at the farmers� level has been calculated as 64 Disease Free Larynx (DFL), 48.46 DFL and 51.31 DFL in average. At this rate, the area has the potential to produce as much as 40 crore cocoons in a year from two commercial crops (Jethua and Katia) with a gross value of Rs 80 crore annually. The expected raw silk will weigh 80,000 kgs in a year worth Rs 129 crore per year, as the price of raw silk is Rs 15,000 per kg.
The NGO also calculated the amount of muga cloth to be around 9,60,000 meters in a year with a current value of Rs 144 crore annually. For this, 1.48 crore cocoon seeds and pre-seed cocoons are to be produced in addition with a value of Rs 4.44 crore in a year. There are 1,602 hectares of som plantations in Dhakuakhana subdivision and 300 mandays of work is generated per hectare in two seasons annually. Altogether, Saikia says, the plantations create 5,33,472 mandays of work every year from the farm sector and 12,00,000 mandays will be generated from the non-farm sector annually. The distribution of seed shares to the farmers will be Rs 1,44,000 per farmer per year. Thus muga culture may be the best option for income and employment generation at large by way of social innovation and bio-resource conservation.
Muga silkworm (Antheraea assamensis Helfer) which is endemic to this part of the world has provided environmental protection to this region by means of agro-forestry conservation and sustainable use of muga seri-biodiversity. Further, it is found that all the host plant of muga silkworm are evergreen and can be used for the maintenance of sustainable environment including soil protection. Silkworm pupae could be utilised for fish feed or any animal feed industry.
Saikia, who is a national award winner farmer, also says that there are prospects for production of bio-engineering, environmental engineering and bio-composite material through public-private partnership in Lakhimpur district through this initiative. Besides environmental upgradation and livelihood generation in flood-prone areas, muga culture could bring social empowerment of the ST/SC families of the district, he says. According to him, muga culture is restricted only to the OBC and MOBC communities in Lakhimpur district where 19.66% of ST and 1.44% of SC population are engaged in this traditional practice.