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Sericulture: A notable approach for encouraging women to lead sustainable lives


Sanjay Hazarika1 and Bidisha Saikia2

  1PhD Scholar, Department of Entomology, AAU, Jorhat-13

2M.Sc. (Agri), Department of Sericulture, AAU, Jorhat-13 sanjaayhazarika00@gmail.com


The craft of silk production, known as sericulture, has a long history of involving women, which makes it an important means for gender-neutral economic growth. The transforming potential of sericulture in empowering women and promoting sustainable livelihoods in rural communities is examined in this article. It explores the economic, social, and environmental aspects of sericulture in relation to women through case studies. It emphasises the ways in which sericulture provides women with chances to engage in the society, gain new skills, and earn money. The article also looks at sericulture’s sustainable methods that support local economic resilience and environmental preservation. This article features the potential of sericulture to empower women and provide sustainable livelihoods in a variety of cultural and geographic contexts, highlighting its many benefits and arguing for its incorporation into more comprehensive policies for rural development.

Keywords: Sericulture, skill development, community engagement, local economic resilience.


Raising silkworms, typically for the purpose of producing silk, a coveted and opulent natural fibre, is known as sericulture. It is an industry centred around agriculture. Raising silkworms is necessary in order to produce raw silk, which is the yarn generated from the cocoons of a particular bug species. One of the primary requirement of sericulture is to cultivate food plants for the silkworms that wind silk cocoons and reel them in order to unravel the silk thread for weaving and other applications.

The four natural silks in sericulture are produced by four different kinds of silkworms: Eri, Mulberry, Muga and Tasar silkworms.

In addition to being an age-old art form, sericulture is a major industry across the globe, particularly in nations like China, India, and Japan. It has historical, cultural, and economic value and the silk that is produced is prized for its durability, lustre and silky texture.

Sericulture can be practiced in a relatively small space. Without the need for hired labour, mulberry farming and silkworm breeding on one acre can support a family of five. Because of qualities like minimal gestation and high yields, sericulture is a great option for livelihood generation for the underprivileged section of people in the society. Sectoral value addition mostly benefits the rural people. Since most end users are from higher economic groups, money flows from high end groups to low end groups.

  Historical Perspective  

The history of sericulture or the raising of silkworms for the production of silk, is an intriguing one that dates back thousands of years to ancient China. It is thought that during the regime of Shang Dynasty in ancient China, sericulture first emerged. China firmly dominated the manufacturing and expertise of silk for millennia. The Chinese treated their methods for cultivating sericulture as precious state secrets. Exporting silkworm eggs or machinery used for producing silk was illegal and might result in death. Over time, sericulture expertise expanded via the Silk Road, a commercial route that linked China with the Mediterranean. As a result, sericulture was established and flourished in areas such as India, Persia (present-day Iran), and Byzantium (modern-day Turkey). Sericulture had made its way to Europe during the Middle Ages, but because of its high price and scarcity, it remained a luxury only accessible to the wealthy. Until the fifteenth century, attempts to raise silkworms and make silk in Europe were mainly futile. In the 18th century, sericulture started to become industrialised in France. The industry was revolutionised by the development of mechanised silk reeling machines and improvements in mulberry growing practices. France became a significant silk manufacturer, particularly at Lyon. In the 19th century, sericulture in Japan developed into a major business. The sector contributed significantly to Japan’s economic growth. Due to the factors like disease outbreaks among silkworms, labour-intensive nature and competition from synthetic fibres, traditional sericulture fell in several nations during the 20th century. Sustainable sericulture methods have garnered more attention in the last few decades. This involves efforts to maintain traditional sericulture methods and legacy, as well as organic sericulture, in which silkworms are cultivated without the use of pesticides.

Sericulture is still a significant sector today in several nations, including Brazil, China, India and Japan. Its historical and cultural relevance has been preserved as it has adjusted to contemporary practices and technologies. A thanks to advances in textile manufacturing and sericulture, silk, which was formerly considered a luxury item for the elite, is now more widely available to the general public. 

Role of women in traditional sericulture practices:

Women have always had a vital role in traditional sericulture techniques, and in many areas where sericulture is practiced, this position is still very important today. The following are some significant facets of women’s roles in traditional sericulture:

  • Mulberry Cultivation: The main source of nourishment for silkworms, mulberries are often grown by women. They are in charge of planting, caring for and gathering mulberry leaves so that the silkworms have a steady source of food. Females actively participate in the care of silkworms through silkworm rearing. As the silkworms progress through their growth stages, they feed and keep an eye on them to make sure the conditions are ideal for the formation of cocoons.
  • Harvesting Silk Cocoons: When the cocoons are mature, women are in charge of harvesting them. To prevent breaking the priceless silk strands, this delicate process needs to be done with care.
  • Silk Reeling: Women frequently work at this craft after harvesting, meticulously unwinding the silk strands from the cocoon. In order to generate long, continuous silk threads, this procedure is essential.
  • Spinning and Weaving: Women are adept at spinning and weaving silk strands into a variety of fabrics in many traditional countries. They maintain ancient artistry by producing exquisite silk textiles, sarees, scarves, and other items.
  • Household-Based Production: In certain societies, sericulture is carried out as a home-based business, with women overseeing all aspects of the industry’s operations. They are able to reconcile their responsibilities as housewives and gardeners as a result.
  • Community-Based Initiatives: Women frequently start self-help and cooperative groups devoted to sericulture. The community’s involvement in sericulture is strengthened by these groups, which offer chances for communal decision-making, mutual assistance, and resource access.
  • Empowerment and Entrepreneurship: Sericulture provides avenues for women to start their own businesses. To further their economic empowerment, they can start small-scale silk related companies like handloom, weaving or silk reeling operations.
  • Cultural Preservation: Women’s participation in traditional sericulture methods contributes to the preservation of traditional knowledge and cultural legacy. It guarantees that sericulture customs will be carried on from one generation to the next.

In conclusion, women have played a crucial role in traditional sericulture methods, actively engaging themselves in all phases of the silk manufacturing process. Their participation not only guarantees sericulture’s success but also gives them social and economic clout, making sericulture an effective instrument for women’s livelihoods and gender equality in many communities.

Challenges faced by women in the industry:

Traditional and modern obstacles are just two of the many that women in the sericulture business frequently encounter, which may limit their involvement and chances for success. Among these difficulties are the following:

  • Limited Access to Resources: The technology, finance and land needed for mulberry and sericulture operations may be out of reach for women. This limits their capacity to make investments in and grow their sericulture business.
  • Unequal Labour Distribution: From mulberry farming to cocoon harvesting and silk reeling, women frequently shoulder a disproportionate share of the labour load in sericulture. Stress connected to time and physical conditions may result from this unbalanced labour distribution.
  • Low Income and Wage Disparities: Women often make less money in the sericulture business than men do, despite their significant contributions to the field. Economic disparities based on gender may be sustained by this income gap.
  • Lack of Training and Education: Women may not have as much access to modern sericulture training and education as they would in some areas. This makes it more difficult for them to implement sustainable and more effective procedures.
  • Seasonal Employment: Women’s income may be restricted to particular times of the year due to the seasonal nature of sericulture. Because of this seasonality, stability and financial planning may be difficult.
  • Health and Safety Concerns: In the absence of appropriate safety precautions, women participating in sericulture activities, such as applying pesticides during mulberry growing, may run the risk of experiencing health and safety issues.
  • Vulnerability to Climate Change: The raising of silkworms and mulberry crops may be impacted by climate-related changes, such as erratic weather patterns and temperature swings. The weight of these difficulties might fall on women.
  • Technological Gaps: Women’s access to and training in the use of contemporary sericulture technology, such as mechanised equipment for silk reeling, may be restricted.
  • Social Norms and Gender-Based Discrimination: In certain communities, discriminatory behaviours and traditional gender norms might impede women’s advancement inside the workforce.

A diverse strategy is needed to address these issues, including expanding women’s participation in decision-making, offering training that takes gender equality into account, increasing awareness of the value of gender equality in the sericulture sector and enhancing resource accessibility. More fair and sustainable development within the sericulture industry may result from the empowerment of women in the field.

Economic impact on women and their families: 

Women and their families can benefit economically from sericulture in a big way. The following are some ways that sericulture might improve women’s and their households’ financial situation:

  • Income Generation: Women who work in sericulture have a reliable source of income all year long. At different phases of the sericulture process, women engaged in mulberry farming, silkworm rearing, cocoon harvesting, and silk manufacture can make money.
  • Poverty Alleviation: Women and their families may be able to escape poverty with the use of income from sericulture. It gives people access to healthcare and education, as well as the wherewithal to meet their basic requirements for food, clothing, and shelter.
  • Financial Stability: Because sericulture provides a consistent revenue stream, households are less susceptible to cyclical fluctuations in the economy and seasonal income swings that are frequently linked to other agricultural pursuits.
  • Empowerment: Women who engage in sericulture experience social and economic advancement. They participate actively in home decision-making and the financial support of their families.
  • Education and Healthcare: The extra money made from sericulture can be used to fund women’s and their children’s healthcare and education. Better general health outcomes and more access to high-quality education may result from this.
  • Entrepreneurship Opportunities: Women can pursue entrepreneurship through sericulture, including starting their own cooperatives or firms focused on silk. Such initiatives have the potential to expand local employment prospects and revenue sources.
  • Women’s Economic Independence: Sericulture income can help women become more financially independent and have more decision-making authority by lowering their reliance on male family members.
  • Community Development: Sericulture affects more than just a household’s bottom line. It can boost regional economies, open job opportunities in remote areas and aid in the general uplift of communities.
  • Preservation of Traditions: Women’s participation in sericulture helps protect traditional knowledge and cultural legacy in areas where it is a custom, transferring sericulture customs to coming generations.

In conclusion, sericulture offers women a means of subsistence as well as more significant social and economic advantages for their communities and families. It promotes access to healthcare and education, empowers women, lowers poverty, and boosts the general economic growth of the areas in which it is practiced.

Success stories of women sericulturists:

There are numerous uplifting tales of triumph from female sericulturists who have surmounted obstacles and produced noteworthy advancements in the field.  Here are few instances:

  • India’s Padmini Bhise: Padmini Bhise, an incredible woman from Maharashtra, India, changed her life by taking up sericulture. She began with just a few silkworms and a tiny plot of land for mulberry farming. She increased the scope of her sericulture endeavours throughout time and succeeded in producing silk. Many other women in Padmini’s village have been motivated to pursue sericulture as a career by her success story.
  • Ishikawa Yoshie (Japan): Known as the “Silk Queen” of Japan, Ishikawa Yoshie is a trailblazing female figure in the sericulture sector. She enhanced silk output by using novel techniques for raising silkworms. Her initiatives helped Japan’s silk export industry in addition to the domestic silk industry.
  • Bai Chunli (China): A prominent figure in sericulture research, Bai Chunli is a scientist from China. Her research focuses on using cutting-edge silkworm rearing methods and genetic breeding to increase silk production. The lives of numerous Chinese women who work in sericulture have improved as a result of her research.
  • India’s Nila Madhaba Patra: Odisha, India-born Nila Madhaba Patra is a prosperous businesswoman in the sericulture sector. She owns a silk farm with her husband and together they have taught many women the art of sericulture. Through the manufacture of silk, their efforts have assisted other women in their neighbourhood in achieving financial independence.
  • Mei Zhan (China): Through sericulture, Mei Zhan, a farmer from Zhejiang Province, China, changed her life. She started a prosperous silk farm after learning contemporary sericulture methods. Mei Zhan’s success story serves as an example of how sericulture is helping rural Chinese women improve their standard of living and gain independence.

These success stories demonstrate the tenacity, inventiveness, and entrepreneurship of female sericulturists. They set an example for others and show how sericulture can be an effective means of empowering and securing the economic independence of women. These women have made significant contributions to their communities and the sericulture sector overall, in addition to bettering their own lives.

Government Initiatives and Support 

Numerous governments worldwide have acknowledged the economic and social importance of sericulture and have launched a range of initiatives and plans to assist and encourage the sector. These programmes seek to increase silk yield, raise the standard of living for sericulturists, and advance environmentally friendly methods. Here are a few instances of government initiatives and plans that support sericulture: 

  • The Indian National Sericulture Mission (NSM): The Government of India introduced the NSM, a comprehensive programme, to encourage sericulture. Its main objectives are to raise silk production, raise silk quality, and increase sericulturists’ earnings. The mission encompasses several activities such as growing mulberries, raising silkworms, weaving silk, doing research and development, and sharing technology.
  • Sericulture Development Programmes in Different States of India: There are numerous sericulture development programmes in India, including those in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Assam. These initiatives offer sericulturists financial assistance, education, and technical support. Initiatives at the state level are customised to the unique requirements and circumstances of the area.
  • The International Commission on Sericulture (ISC): An inter-governmental body, the ISC fosters global collaboration in commerce, technology transfer and research in sericulture. Member nations work together to develop the global sericulture sector.
  • Assistance with Value-Added Products: A few countries offer assistance with the creation of silk products with added value. This involves helping weavers and sericulturists produce and market goods made of silk, such as, clothing, accessories, and textiles.
  • Research and Development: To enhance breeding methods, disease prevention, and cocoon quality, governments fund research and development in sericulture. Sericulturists gain from this research since it boosts sustainability and productivity.
  • Financial Incentives: Financial incentive programmes could cover costs for cocoon marketing, sericulture equipment, and mulberry cultivation. For farmers, sericulture is now more profitable and more accessible because to these financial incentives.
  • Training and Skill Development: To improve the knowledge and skills of craftsmen and sericulturists in a variety of sericulture-related fields, governments frequently arrange workshops and training programmes.

Sericulture’s continued existence as a viable and sustainable sector is greatly aided by these government initiatives. They seek to uplift sericulturists, encourage eco-friendly methods and guarantee the industry’s continuous expansion.


To sum up, sericulture is extremely important for empowerment and as a means of subsistence for women. It is a route to female equality, sustainable development, and economic independence rather than merely being a custom. Sericulture gives women a steady source of income, enabling them to make financial contributions to their homes and communities.

Women who practice sericulture are empowered because they have authority over financial resources, make decisions, and hold leadership positions in associations and cooperatives dedicated to sericulture. Women can gain important skills in mulberry farming, silkworm rearing, and silk production through sericulture, which will increase their marketability and expertise. Because of their participation in sericulture, women may now access markets for a variety of silk products, from value-added goods to raw silk, opening them new business prospects. In the light of climate change, sericulture provides women with a more stable source of income due to its flexibility in responding to shifting weather patterns. The advancement of women’s rights and gender equality depends on sericulture programs that encourage female participation and gender-inclusive laws. In many areas, sericulture is deeply ingrained in the culture and women are essential in maintaining and transmitting these customs. Essentially, sericulture is about more than simply silkworms and silk production; it’s about giving women a way to overcome social and economic barriers, enhance their quality of life, and support the long-term growth of their communities. Acknowledging and promoting women’s contributions to sericulture is crucial to realizing the full potential of this age-old but rapidly changing sector. In the field of sericulture, it is possible to establish a welcoming and encouraging atmosphere that will empower women, help them become financially independent, and help promote sustainable growth. In addition to being a question of social justice, advancing gender equality in sericulture can lead to a more successful and just business sector and society at large.


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