Lockdown ruins Ramanagara silk biz

City COVID-19 Rural Karnataka

Bengaluru: A downturn in business due to the lockdown has robbed the smiles of Ramanagara’s sericulture farmers, silk reelers, weavers and vendors.

Silk from Ramanagara is used to make the famous Mysore, Ilkal, Kanchi, and Banaras saris.

Yengerappa, a sericulture farmer in Ramanagara, informed The Observer: “We rear Tasar silk (Bivoltine). Earlier, cocoons would sell for Rs 400-450 a kg. Now we get only Rs 200-250 a kg. The government has provided only little subsidy since August.”

Prema B, a sericulture farmer near Kanakapura, said: “During the lockdown, the market was shut. We had to sell cocoons for the price reelers dictated. There were times last year where we had sold for Rs 700-750 a kg. Due to excessive rain this year, a large number of mulberry leaves was destroyed.”

After purchasing raw silk, reelers draw fibre from the cocoons. In and around Ramanagara, there are around 1,200 reelers. The reeling factories have cut working days and their employees’ wages.

  • The silkmoth eggs hatch to form larvae or caterpillars, known as silkworms. The larvae feed on mulberry leaves.
  • The silkworm extrudes a silk fibre and forms a net to hold itself.
  • The silkworm spins approximately for one km and encloses itself in a cocoon about two or three days.
  • The intact cocoons are boiled, killing the silkworm pupa. The silk filaments are then wound on a reel, to produce raw silk.
  • Colour is added to the raw silk, and weaved into apparels.

“We have one month’s stock and no payment. Earlier, we used to stock up cocoons for one month; now we are buying only for four days,” said Sunil Kumar, owner of Savandurga Narasimha Swamy Silk Reeling Factory, Ramanagara.

Reelers are selling at a low price due to the lack of a good marketplace.

“I used to get Rs 3,000-3,500 a kg before; now only Rs 1,500-2,000. My family is solely dependent on the silk business. First, GST hit us, and now it’s corona. The government does not provide us any security as it does with farmers,” said Ismail Pasha, a silk reeler.

Hundreds of saris remain in stock, creating a grim situation for weavers.

Manjunath Gowda, a designer at KG Kiran Weavers, Cubbonpet, Bengaluru, thousands of small weavers sold their looms as they could not feed their families, and migrated to Tamil Nadu. “Business is picking up slowly, but compared to last year, it’s almost 70% down. We still have hundreds of unsold saris.”

In September, the Karnataka government promised to purchase six lakh silk saris worth Rs 35 crore. 

The demand for saris and other silk garments has plummeted. Dasara and Deepavali did not brighten up business either. Because of the restriction on big ceremonies, not many customers visited sari shops during ‘Karthika Masam’, considered auspicious for Hindu marriages.

Chethan N, a salesperson at Kancheepuram Silks, said: “September to December is usually our peak season. But the festival season was dull. We did not get big crowds during the marriage season either. Our salaries have been cut by 30%.”

JM Bassiah, Deputy Director of Sericulture, Government Cocoon Market, Ramanagara, said: “Summer is the peak season for cocoon-rearing. On average, Rs 420 per kg for Bivoltine, and Rs 350 per kg for the crossbreed is fixed. Around 75 tonnes of silk is sold every day during February-April. Now hardly 30-35 tonnes of silk is sold.”

Conceding that the demand for raw silk is low, he said: “To help reelers, the Karnataka Silk Marketing Board released Rs 20 crore in May to purchase raw silk with short-time pledging.” 

In north Karnataka, heavy rain and floods destroyed weavers’ raw material and power looms. 

With a Covid vaccine in development, the silk industry is hoping for decent growth in 2021.


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