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Ratna Bharali Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2017-09-26

Experiment to battle climate change challenges brings back glitter of Assam’s Muga silk

 

The Batakuchi village of Bakrapara area in Boko of Kamrup district has a rich tradition of Muga cultivation. The eye-catching beauty of the hillocks covered with Som ( Persea Bombycina) trees - the food-plant species of Muga (Antheraea Assama) silkworm not only reveals the rich heritage of the villagers of cultivating Muga silkworms throughout the ages, but their efforts for survival of this highly sensitive silkworm species in the context of issues including global warming and climate change.

Pankaj Rabha is a commercial Muga seed grower of Batakuchi village. He has been relentlessly engaging himself in producing healthy Muga silkworms, so that they can resist challenges such as changing rainfall pattern and draught in a natural way.

Rabha travels to remote areas along Assam-Meghalaya border and collect healthy muga seed-cocoons for breeding from deep jungles. Muga moths still survive in these wild pockets, he says.

The moths thus collected from the serene pockets of wild where human interference is almost absent, are not only healthy, but they can resist difficult situations to a large extent, he observes.

His wife, Kanika Rabha who is also an expert in reeling Muga thread from the cocoons, too, help him in his experiments of saving this unique species and pride of the state.

During seed-production, their courtyard is filled with village women coming to work, whom they engage in seed–collecting and other works. Thus, the couple also has been able to provide livelihood opportunities to a number of village women.

The seed-producition and Muga cultivation tradition of the village also attract a large number of young girls to explore it as a livelihood option.

Over the years, Pankaj Rabha has been able to establish himself as one of the most successful commercial Muga seed-suppliers in the state. Muga-cultivators from different part of the state visit his house during seasons to purchase seeds

These moths collected from the wild, lay eggs almost double the number of eggs laid by moths reared at homestead gardens. A normal moth lays nearly 100 eggs. However, a moth collected from wild lays almost 200 eggs.

 

The experiment that started years back has not only earned him wealth and reputation, but he is now a source of inspiration to many such Muga cultivators on the locality, who seek his advice whenever they facing any problem.

Unlike other varieties of silkworms in Assam including Pat and Eri; Muga silkworms cannot be reared in in-house environment. The cultivation process requires round the clock vigil against attack by pests and birds. Further, apart from changing climatic conditions like draught and changing rain pattern, increasing anthropogenic pressure like urbanisation, setting up of brick-kilns, using pesticides in surrounding areas, also affect cultivation process of this highly sensitive silkworm species. This has led to large-scale premature death of the silkworms

 

Most of the traditional Muga-cultivators in Upper Assam have shifted to small tea cultivation replacing the traditional Muga seed-plant gardens with small tea gardens. Many such in lower Assam, on the other hand, have replaced their seed-plant gardens with rubber plantation, as Muga-cultivation has no more remunerative these days. Amidst such a gloomy situation, the experiment initiated by Pankaj Rabha has rekindled hopes for survival of this rare species.

Photo and Text - Ratna Bharali Talukdar

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