Laos, Korea thread way to improved silkworm breed

A hybrid Lao-Korean silkworm has been produced thanks to a cooperation project in Vientiane, and the new breed is now being tested by silk producing families in Xieng Khuang province.
But the process to create a better type of silk thread is only just beginning. The three-year Lao-Korean research will be completed later this year.
This is something new in Laos – the breeding of a hybrid silkworm that will hopefully revitalise the silk business and encourage more people to make silk items of clothing and household decorations.
The research centre in Vientiane is located by the Mekong River, where mulberry silkworms are raised in Haddokkeo village, Hadxaifong district.
The work is being carried out by researchers from the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Korea Progamme on International Agriculture in Laos Centre (KOPIA).     
Director of the Horticulture Research Centre, Dr Bounneuang Duangboupha, who is working on sericulture research and development, told Vientiane Times the colour of the yarn produced by these silkworms is more pleasing than that obtained by traditional Lao silkworms and the thread is longer.
“Spinning is the most important step in the process and requires good quality silk. In Laos we have not been able to use a spinning wheel for silk thread – it can only be done by hand. But the new yarn produced by the Lao-Korean silkworms enables us to use both methods, which is what we want,” he said.
The work done at the Laos-KOPIA Centre aims to revitalise silk production in Laos after many people gave up the practice because they found better ways to earn money, like growing vegetables or maize.
In the past, silkworm farmers could be found all over the country but now only four or five provinces still produce silk, where organised production groups mostly use it to make handicrafts. 
People grow crops to make money but it’s quite difficult and the market is competitive. Silk production is a necessity but has a high investment cost and there is a lot of competition.
The number of people producing silk today is limited and does not meet local or market needs. About 90 percent of the silk used in Laos is imported. One reason for this is that village-based production in Laos cannot compete with the quality and low prices available in Vietnam and Thailand.
So the big hope for Laos lies in Xieng Khuang province where the new breed of silkworm is being tested in Phoukoud district. If they thrive and can produce as much silk as they did at the centre in Vientiane, this signals a new and brighter alternative for farmers.
If not, the silkworms will be trialled in Huaphan province, about 245 kilometres from Xieng Khuang, to see if they do better in different climatic conditions. Silkworms do well in a temperate climate - not too cold and not too hot.
KOPIA Director Dr Choi Yong Hwan said the centre plans to use additional funding and technical assistance to improve farmers’ living conditions.
The project aims to develop a new silkworm breed and production technology in Laos over the next three years, with KOPIA providing US$100,000 (about 845 million kip).
Dr Choi said silkworms need space to thrive and develop and there must be special rooms in which to raise them. If these standards are lacking, the silkworms may die or not be of good quality.
The other challenge is ensuring that their environment is clean and they are kept at the right temperature.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry began encouraging the production of different silk varieties in 2011 after some farmers abandoned traditional silkworms and sought alternatives. But the budget for this work was only about 50 million kip a year.   
Silkworm breeding is not easy, and it’s important that the government bodies involved in this work understand this.
Strong government support is needed in finding markets and providing farmers with sufficient technical assistance.
People won’t engage in silk production if they are just told to do so. And, on a practical level, it’s impossible for village farmers to go out and buy air-conditioners to keep their silkworms at just the right temperature.

By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update November 21, 2018)

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