Since the 1990s from Karnataka’s silk farmers’ perspective Indian silk industry has been an interesting and bumpy ride. The industry saw an increase and decrease in the demand, quality, infusion of various breeds, change in methods of farming, and much more. It was also a phase where millions of farmers with great zeal took up silk farming then stopped due to many reasons. However, there are a few farmers who made it back to silk farming, some by chance, some by fate, and some with their determination, and with just a bit of help…
Story of Thumbappa
This is the story of one such farmer, Thumbappa from Hagaribommanahalli, Karnataka. He has been doing silk farming for about 35 years. When he started, he reared silk in a small piece of land that he owned, he used to fill his silk cocoons in a wooden basket, travel to Bangalore, and wait at the roadside. He would hope that the reelers would come, like the quality of cocoons and give him a fair price so that he would return home with some profits for his hard work.
With the percentage of crop loss very high, the marginal profits he would gain was negligible. Disheartened, Thumbappa stopped doing silk farming for a while. So, the humble farmer, the backbone of the Indian silk industry was struggling and with him, also the Indian sericulture domain was scuffling to keep its own too.
Even though the industry was affected from a production perspective, demand was always on the higher side. To fulfil these demands, India had to import foreign silk.
The bivoltine revolution and its effects
Introduction of new bivoltine breeds paved a way for better yields. This scientific revolution brought back a lot of farmers to silk farming and with them, Thumbappa returned too.
This factor also propelled cocoon production in Karnataka resulting in a surge of the number of reelers. Now, to facilitate the trade, marketplaces were established. Farmers across the state and neighboring states traveled to these marketplaces hoping to sell their cocoons at a profitable price.
“So many farmers were excited to start silk farming because of bivoltine. To be able to rear silkworms that spin such great quality cocoons felt like a miracle to me” Said Thumbappa remembering his times of the early 2000s.
Everything said and done, Thumbappa’s struggle doesn’t end at producing quality cocoons, but it actually begins there. As most of the business reeler hubs were in the Southern part of Karnataka, silk farmers had to travel to cities like Ramanagara, Shidlaghatta, Kolar, etc.
Struggle to sell cocoons
Thumbappa travelling far distances on a summer day to reelers hubs meant weight loss in cocoons. Because, while travelling, cocoons are naturally exposed to heat and due to the rise in temperature, cocoons dry up and lose a lot of weight. Cocoon rates are determined based on the kgs and quality of cocoons (as perceived by reelers), thus weight loss meant decreased profits for Thumbappa.
To avoid this, Thumbappa started travelling at night, but this solution came with its own set of challenges. Just like Thumbappa other farmers also travelled at night and the marketplace was crowded and the operations would not start till around the next morning 10AM. Till then Thumbappa had to stay awake to make sure his cocoons were intact. There was no proper place to eat, sleep for thousands of farmers like Thumbappa who worked restlessly for a month. The same farmer who is supporting the demands of the world’s biggest consumer of silk aka India was now in a deplorable condition.
“We used to sleep near our cocoon lots taking turns just to be safe.” said Thumbappa, recounting those days.
If being subjected to these subhuman conditions was one struggle, the next day getting good prices for his cocoons was like winning a lottery. “Sometimes I had to inevitably sell my cocoons at a lesser price because as the day passed, my cocoons would be of no value at all. There was no respect for us and our crop” Thumbappa shares his hassles.
Despite these struggles, with a temporary rearing shed and a mulberry field, Thumbappa and his family managed to stay afloat.
The rainbow after the rainstorm!
Just before COVID pandemic, Thumbappa had something else waiting for him. In 2020, heavy rains and wind wrecked his rearing shed that was built of metal sheet roofing and walls. “That day felt like I’m in hell, I have stopped and restarted silkworm rearing multiple times over 35 years. This time I also saw so many silk farmers struggling to sell their cocoons due to COVID too. I felt like it is time for me to say goodbye to silk farming, I was thinking of growing something else in my land.” Thumbappa explained.
When Thumbappa was at this point in his life, ReshaMandi was opening many cocoon procurement centers near silk farmer hubs across Karnataka. It was going to the farm gate of silk farmers to collect cocoons and pay them a fair price. During such dire times, ReshaMandi provided a sense of stability, safety, and dignity to several farmers like Thumbappa.
“It was simple, they came to our rearing shed, checked the quality of our cocoons, set a price, and took it to their centre. No more sleepless nights to protect the cocoons, no more dependency on the factor of luck to get good prices for cocoons. The best feeling was as farmers we were doing business and not just getting rid of our produce. Also, I didn’t even have a rearing shed when they started”
“ReshaMandi associated with so many farmers, there was a humanity in it, not just business. So, I felt like I should start my silk farming again, and I went straight to ReshaMandi asking if they could help. And thankfully, they did. They lend me money to rebuild my much-improved rearing shed. I have been selling my cocoons to them since 1 and half years and repaying my debt from my earnings.” there was a sense of pride and gratification in Thumbappa’s tone when he explained this.
“Sometimes, all we need is a push to flourish. If my memory is right, I started silk farming in 1996 and I never felt like I am running a sustainable ship.” There was a sigh of relief in his voice. “Now, I have increased my farm capacity by 3 acres and my kids left their jobs to do silk rearing with me. Finally, I feel like I can do silk farming without thinking of going back to do something else”
This has been a coming together story of silk farmer Thumbappa. Without an iota of doubt, ReshaMandi is truly championing farmers. From procuring cocoons, ensuring reasonable profits for their produce, IoT devices to monitor conditions and boost up the crop yield, it is mitigating every problem farmers are facing.
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