Sericulture might be a big source for farmers to boost income, says a report published by China Economic Net (CEN) on Friday. “We’ve earned Rs 70,000 in one month. However, if I work elsewhere, even with my kids, I can’t earn that much,” said Muhammad Aslam, a silkworm farmer in Changa Manga, Punjab. Aslam’s income came from raising silkworms. It took 45 days from buying silkworm eggs to hatching, silking and selling cocoons. “As there are five in our family, we can raise two packets (one packet contains 3,000-4,000 silkworm eggs) in one season.” He told CEN cheerfully that “we’ve used this income to cure my kids’ eye troubles and buy new clothes for them.” Most families in Changa Manga where Aslam lives were poor in the past. Some families used to have an average daily income of less than Rs 500, which was below the World Bank’s poverty line of USD 3.2 (about Rs 588) per capita per day in Pakistan. Many poor households have now started raising silkworms to earn a living. “This spring families around us raised about 1,500 packets. Many people used to ride bicycles, but now they bought motorcycles after raising silkworms. Moreover, some are capable of paying for their children to go to school and get married,” Aslam said. According to the report, each family earns Rs 150,000 more per year by introducing Chinese silkworm eggs. Back in 2018, farmers in Punjab were mostly breeding Bulgarian silkworms. In scorching summer, it was well above the optimal temperature of 25°C for silkworm cultivation. This meant that there was only one season a year when silkworms could be raised for money, with limited increase in income. “Since that year, we have imported Chinese silkworm eggs, which are of better quality. With good yield and resistance, they can be raised in both spring and autumn. That year, 300 packets of silkworm eggs were imported, and the import was increased to 600 packets in 2019,” said Muhammad Farooq Bhatti, deputy director, Sericulture, Forest Department Punjab, adding that “1,000 families in Changa Manga started raising silkworms this year.” For rural Pakistani families, silkworm raising takes up little time and brings in significant additional income. As silkworms feed on mulberry leaves mainly in the last seven days (over 85 percent of their total mulberry leaf intake), farmers are generally supposed to pick mulberry leaves frequently to feed silkworms during these seven days, and they can continue other farm work such as raising cattle and planting crops in the rest of the time, Bhatti explained. In terms of the income of raising a packet of silkworm eggs, according to Bhatti, the purchase cost is Rs 2,000-2,500, and the output is 35-40 kg of cocoons. As the price of cocoon is Rs 1,200-1,300 per kg, the income is Rs 30,000-40,000. Mulberry trees required for silkworm breeding are planted by the government, and the mulberry leaf picking fee is Rs 150 a season. If a family, including four or five people such as husband, wife, children and grandparents, raises three packets of silkworm eggs, the income can reach Rs 80,000-90,000. If they raise two seasons a year, the income will hit Rs 150,000, with an average increase of Rs 12,000-15,000 per month. With the improvement of farmers’ skills in raising silkworms, cocoon production is expected to double. He Yubing, the Chinese head of Buraq Import Export (pvt) Ltd., a company that provides cocoons, said the same type of silkworm can produce 50-60 kilograms of cocoons in China, which is about 1.5 times it produces in Pakistan. One acre of land supports ten packets of silkworm eggs by introducing dwarf mulberry trees. For silkworm farmers, in addition to silkworm, mulberry tree is another key factor for raising silkworms. Silkworms only feed on mulberry leaves, and can take 4-5 times a day in the late age of silkworm rearing, so a packet of silkworm eggs can devour over 100 kilograms of fresh mulberry leaves. Moreover, the amount of intake affects silkworm size and cocoon production. “For our parents’ generation, they needed to climb mulberry trees, which are about 30 to 40 feet (about 9-12 meters) high, to pluck leaves. The slightest mistake would result in a disabled fall, and some people even lost their lives.” In addition, once the autumn and winter arrive, mulberry leaves fall off, so it is impossible to raise silkworms, Aslam said. Later, Pakistan introduced Japanese mulberry trees, but the results were not satisfactory. “The leaves of Japanese mulberry trees are rather thin, and the silkworms produce little silk after feasting on them,” said Muhammad Amin, who has been in the silk business for 10 years. For this reason, Chinese mulberry trees were introduced by the Sericulture, Forest Department Punjab. “It has provided us with dwarf mulberry trees. We, including kids and the elderly, can pluck leaves while standing on the ground, and we have mulberry leaves in winter,” Aslam said contentedly. Bhatti has been content with the mulberry varieties imported from China. “If the soil is appropriate, 250 quality mulberry trees can be planted on one acre of land. Besides, they grow very fast. If they are planted in January this year, they can grow big leaves in February next year.