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The silk culture or sericulture involves the process of obtaining silk from the cocoons formed by moths or silkworms known as Bombyx Mon. The silk culture originated in China and from China it spread to Japan and gradually to India, western Asia and southern Europe.
Commercial production of silk involves four different stages:
(a) growing of mulberry trees,
(b) rearing of silkworms,
(c) tending of cocoons,
(d) reeling of silk.
The leaves of the mulberry trees are used to feed the silkworms. Young worms immediately after their hatching begin to eat mulberry leaves voraciously for four to five weeks. The leaves are chopped and silkworms are fed sever times throughout the day and at least twice during night. The worms are peace-loving by nature and every precaution is taken to avoid noise inside a room where worms are kept. The temperature inside the room should be 20°C to 30°C. The silkworms after attaining full growth are kept on a tray where they spin cocoons. The cocoons are boiled in hot water in order to kill the worm inside the cocoons and then reeling of silk starts. In order to get one lb. of raw silk cocoons of more than 2,500 worms and 100 lbs. of fresh mulberry leaves are required. Each cocoon contains about 762 to 915 meters of filament.
But due to delicate nature of the filament much. amount is wasted at the time of reeling, which is done either by hand or by steam filatures. These explain the high cost of silk. The growth of mulberry trees depends on high temperatures and heavy summer rainfall. The soil is not an important factor. The mulberry trees can be grown on poor acid and infertile soils. Hence, they are relegated to the rugged lands or hilly lands-which are not available for food crop. production.
Sericulture in Japan. In 1987-88, Japan produced 17 thousand metric tons of raw silk against world total of 56.5 thousand metric tons, i.e., 30%. Cocoon production amounted to 110,000 metric tons against world total of 260,000 metric ton. Silk culture in Japan is done from the northern end of Honshu to southern Kyushu. About 40% of farm households are engaged in sericulture. In upland district ; where rice cultivation is difficult the percentage of farmers doing sericulture is about 75.
At every stage there is government help. Reeling is done under government supervision. Organized associations are to be found covering the different activities involving mulberry tree growing, breeding and rearing of worms etc. There are national and local experiment stations which breed healthy worms and distribute them to farmers.
The silk reeling centres are mainly in the Kwanto plains of Honshu and in the Nagoya plains. U.S.A. was the principal market for Japan's raw silk. But World War II cut off exports and the Japanese government reduced mulberry acreage by about 75% in order to grow more food. Still Japan supplies about 72% of the total export.
Britain, Burma and France are importers of Japanese silk.
Japan is not likely to recover her position as raw silk exporter because of advent and competition of cheap synthetic fibre like rayon, nylon, etc.