TIRUNELVELI: Though the lockdown disrupted the economy and left many jobless, people from the Kaani tribes of Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve remained prosperous, cultivating eri silk worms and paving the way for a new source of income. The name ‘eri’ is derived from the Assamese word ‘era’, which means castor, as the silkworms feed on castor plants. The Tirunelveli Department of Sericulture, in coordination with the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve eco-development officer, introduced ericulture to the tribals in Kaani settlement on a trial basis in January 2020.
About 10 beneficiaries joined under the Silk Samagra Scheme for Development of Sericulture in the district. These farmers were given a subsidy of Rs 63,000 each to construct a shed, and Rs 15,300 was allotted for cultivating castor to feed the silkworms. The castor seeds would also be sold to bring in additional income. However the plan suffered a major blow when the lockdown brought down the number of participants from 10 to three. But the success of those three made the other seven join them in taking up full-fledged eri silkworm cultivation.
The Sericulture department Assistant Director K Nishanthi initiated the cultivation in Tirunelveli district and distributed 10 disease-free layings (DFLs) to each farmer - each DFL comprises 250 worm eggs. The eggs hatch and it takes 15-20 days to harvest the silk, which resembles cotton. Ten DFLs yield 6-7 kg of worms. The 10 beneficiaries harvested their yield as part of the second trial on Wednesday. They received a yield of 5-6 kg each, earning each of them a profit of nearly Rs 2,000. The cost of 1 kg is Rs 250-300, depending on the quality and growth of the cocoon and pupae.
R Diana, Junior Inspector of the Sericulture Department at the Demonstration-Training Centre in VM Chathram, told TNIE that eri silkworms were wild before the Assam farmers domesticated them. “As this practice originated in tribal settlements, we decided to introduce it to the Kaani settlements in Papanasam. Three farmers were trained in planting castor crops and cultivating eri silkworms. After this second trial, each farmer will be given 50 DFLs, and later 100 DFLs, which will increase their profit and provide them an income of Rs 15,000-20,000,” she said.
“After retiring from the post of forest watcher, I was planning to start a snack shop. But forest officials and staff of the Sericulture department introduced me to cultivation of eri silk worms, which even fetched me an income during the lockdown. I now have a second yield. This practice has helped generate an income for farmers when no businesses were functioning. Last year, the three farmers combined earned Rs 6,570.
If this continues, we will get a better yield and income,” said Boothathan, a retired forest watcher of Kaani. Sheela (32), a daily-wage labourer and her two daughters, said, “This type of farming is beneficial and is apt for housewives.” The official said ericulture was introduced to the tribes so that once normalcy is restored, each farmer would be able to generate Rs 15,000 every 20 days. To earn more, farmers can sell the castor seeds.