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Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods: Case Study on our Tasar Operations conducted by United Nations - World Food Programme & International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Sericulture: Oak Tasar, Eri and Mulberry Sector  
Outreach- Districts: 5 (Uttarkashi, Pauri, Tehri, Chamoli and Rudraprayag), Blocks: 18, Villages: 68, Beneficiaries: 1600, Net Annual returns: Rs 81.07 lakhs, Average incomes: Rs 18,500/ annum.

The oak (temperate) tasar silk program has been AT India's 'flagship' programme. It best reflects our synergistic approach of forest conservation through enterprise development. Oak tasar silk production uses oak leaves as food for the silkworms during rearing stages. Leaf harvesting performs a pruning function that promotes regeneration of foliage. At the same time the abundant availability of food plant resources for the cultivation of temperate tasar in the state present exciting economic prospects. Consequently, oak tasar cocoon and silk production generates good income from oak leaves, providing a tangible incentive for sustainable management of the oak forest ecosystem.

AT India commenced work on oak (temperate) tasar in 1995, on an experimental basis, at Ukhimath, Rudraprayag district of the then state of UP. In its initial years, it had to face up to the challenge of sensitizing hill communities on the potential of what were perceived as alien processes of cocoon rearing and silk weaving. In 2003, and 2004 AT India's silk enterprise was the single largest producer of oak cocoons in the country with a record harvest of 30 lakh and 40 lakh cocoons respectively. In order to keep harvesting from oak forests within sustainable limits and simultaneously augment its silk production output, AT India in 2005 initiated production of other non-mulberry silks- Eri silk-a multi-voltine silk that has traditionally been produced across the tribal belt of India. Over the years, the program has evolved to all stages of oak and eri silk production-from cocoon rearing, yarn processing, spinning and reeling up to weaving and marketing of the end products.

Recently AT India has expanded the sericulture activities into mulberry sector in a cluster called Dhauntiyal covering certain areas 3 blocks viz. Rikhnikhal, Jaiharikhal and Doggada bock of dist. Pauri Garhwal. There are 400 households who are being involved in mulberry silk value chain right from cultivating sufficient mulberry plantation for augmenting the cocoon production, rearing of mulberry cocoons and reeling and spinning of mulberry silk yarn. The plan is to establish the weaving facilities in order to provide the opportunities to the participating households to act across the entire mulberry silk value chain.

Programme Milestones
. Established the first ever (in India) commercial production of oak (temperate) tasar sericulture in the Garhwal Himalayas.
. Imparted expert training on cocoon rearing, spinning, dyeing and weaving and thereby developing the skills of roughly over 1600 persons.
. Weavers under the programme have been trained by getting experienced master craftsmen from other parts of the country. In the process AT India has created first generation artisans who demonstrate in-depth understanding of complex weaving skills.
. Under AT India's multi-pronged strategy for development of infrastructure, it has developed one of its kind infrastructures for cocoon rearing, preservation and grainage in the pre-cocoon stage and spinning, weaving and quality control in the post-cocoon stage.
. AT India is currently rearing the temperate silk worms on Q. serrata (Manipuri banjh) a more nutritive and productive species of oak planted under the programme since 1999. Q. serrata plantations can be raised near homesteads and thus saves cocoon rearers the drudgery of having to go to distant forests. Moreover its use can help conserve the valuable oak forests of Q. Semicarpifolia and Q. floribunda.
. The whole cycle from silk worm rearing, cocoon production, silk yarn spinning / reeling and weaving provides employment to more than 700 men and women in remote villages.
. DNPPCL, who have achieved sales of approximately Rs. 42 lakhs in the financial year 20013-14.
. AT India and DNPPCL Together has demonstrated the market potential of oak tasar silk and wool blended textiles successfully through its design prototypes, quality and sustainable supply to cater to market demands. At present the products are being successfully marketed in high-end Indian markets at exclusive retail outlets.

Silk Production Process; Oak & Eri and Mulberry silk-worm rearing:
Silk-worm eggs are obtained from AT India and reared up to cocoon stage. Families earn incomes by rearing silk worms (after chawkie rearing) and selling the cocoons back to the enterprise. All post cocoons activity i.e., production of yarn and fabric is now run on commercial lines and is therefore included in DNPPCL activities.

Spinning:
The yarn is produced in the villages mainly by women beneficiaries. Cocoons are sold by Business Service Providers (BSPs) at subsidized rates on a per kg basis. Yarn is spun at valley level spinning units or at home by those who purchased own machines. The yarn is then collected on a specific date of the month. Quality control in spinning is attained by fixing different rates for different grades of yarn spun.

Dyeing:
Dyeing operations are carried out the dyeing center established in Mastura village of Ukhimath Block of Rudraprayag dist.

AT India has pioneered the commercial use of the invasive weed Eupatorium as a raw material for making natural dyes. Until now productive use has not been found for this invasive weed which has been causing substantial damage to the mountain environment more than any other factor threatens the regions biodiversity by invading and colonizing the forest understory, reducing and eventually halting natural regeneration. The commercialization of this activity is still in the experimental stage.

The activity of production of natural dyes implemented as a pilot activity in 5 Gram Panchayat of the Akashkamini valley of Ukhimath block of district Rudraprayag. It has addressed the environment conservation issue by finding the utilization aspects of the invasive weed eupatorium (Adenophorum) and livelihood generation by involving the communities in eradicating the weed and using it as the natural dyes. The eupatorium is a tenacious weed and spread rapidly for which the project has been testing two methods to curb the rapid growth of this invasive weeds i.e. uprooting and coppicing.

The technology involved in the process of manufacturing natural dye from the eupatorium is low cost and simple to use. The weeds is collected from the plots identified for monitoring by the women and is processed in the Community Facility Centre (CFC) established in Akashkamini valley with state of art facilities for manufacturing the natural dyes.

Eupatorium leaves proved to be a good source of dye material for dyeing all types of silk yarns- Oak Tasar, Eri and mulberry silk yarn and also other type of yarn including cotton. The dye powder with the mordants gives beautiful color / shades ranging from light green to golden yellow. The eupatorium thus serves the purpose of raw material, abundantly available in mountains, for manufacturing the natural dye and in process of collection its growth is curbing for further spread in the area. Currently the center has the capacity to produce 1 quintal natural dye power from Eupatorium leaves per month.

Weaving:
Weaving takes place in 6 decentralized units. Weavers under the programme have been trained by getting experienced master craftsmen from other parts of the country and hence AT India's master weavers are equipped with an intricate understanding of different weaving styles. The master weavers based at the centers, help in preparation of net on the loom for production against any specific orders and are especially trained to monitor minute to minute weaving activity. Quality control is a major focus area and is being undertaken at several levels of the production process. Calendaring and finishing takes place in the units established in Dehradun from where it is dispatched onward to customers across the country.

Finished products: Temperate Oak Tasar / Eri Silk blended shawls, stoles, mufflers, saris and fabrics. Devbhumi Oak Tasar silk is a finer variety of tasar generated in India by the silk-worm Anthrea proyeli J. that feeds on oak. It has the following features which render it distinct from the more lustrous mulberry silk:
. Coarser and more textured feel
. Higher durability
. A range of natural colors from ivory to golden yellow
. A range of interesting weave patterns/ motifs
. Its high durability means it can be woven either as a silk-wool blend or as a pure silk fabric.

Steps toward Sustainable Management of Oak Forests
The following mechanisms have been devised since the beginning of Oak Tasar Program by AT India with the help of Kumaon University, Department of Botany:
1. Mapping of oak forest areas for harvesting is done with the help of concerned village communities in Van Panchayat meetings.
2. During site selection, old growth forests and larger seed crops are avoided and cocoon rearers are trained to harvest only 30% of the fine leaves and twigs of a given tree.
3. As part of the rearing process, it is mandatory for each cocoon rearer group to protect a predetermined number of saplings in their area of operation, apart from developing Q. Serrata nurseries on common lands.

Uttarakhand is the only state in India, (perhaps one of the few regions in the world) which has the conducive agro-climactic conditions to produce all 5 varieties of silk, i.e. temperate and tropical tasar, muga, eri and mulberry silk, giving it a unique strength in the sector. AT India, thus plans to leverage these strengths and build on existing skills and resources to expand non-mulberry sericulture in Uttarakhand.

Product Development
AT India has always accorded primacy to a market-driven approach; essentially producing according to market demands and not just anything that it can manage to produce. We understand the value of constant design innovations to remain competitive in the market. Each year new design concepts are prepared with the help of textile designers to gear up to meet the whims of the garment industry.