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Living in a material world

Sok Chan / Khmer Times Share:
Silk worms at the Silk Research Centre, Royal University of Phnom Penh. KT/Sok Chan

The Khmer Silk Centre, an institution dedicated to research in the silk industry and to revitalising the weaving sector at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) has succeeded in its researching of an artificial diet for silkworm.

Mey Kalyan, chairman of the board of trustees at the RUPP and the main person behind the Silk Research Centre, told Khmer Times that the artificial diet was formed by mixing mulberry leaves with certain vitamins.

“By introducing the artificial diet just once, a silkworm can spend 12 days eating it. Usually, they eat three times a day,” Kalyan added. He said the artificial diet makes the worms bigger and healthier and less labour is needed.

The idea is that the diet will be put on tiered trays with the worms instead of the creatures being left on mulberry trees and eat as nature intended.

“We have to conduct more studies on the artificial diet before rolling it out commercially,” he added.

Kalyan added that his institution has enough know-how to deliver healthy. quality silkworms and mulberry trees to communities in rural areas.

The worms, which are in the process of developing into moths, are fed with mulberry leaves, which produce the best silk.

“We will roll out production this year in Kampong Speu and Mondulkiri and expect production to increase steadily each year in a sustainable manner,” Kalyan added.

“In the future, we plan to promote more applied research by using silk worms in the areas of cosmetics and medicine. Such research is being carried out widely in other countries, such as Japan, Korea, China and Thailand,” he noted.

Mey Kalyan, chairman of the board of trustees at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. RUPP

As a latecomer to the business, Cambodia will follow this path in order to strengthen its capability in scientific and technical research and to create more added-value for the country, Kalyan said. He pointed out that it is an example of a knowledge-based economy relying on a source that can be produced in Cambodia.

“I know also now that silkworms are being used to try to produce a COVID-19  vaccine in more advanced countries and we know that although it is a tall order for us now, we can follow the development of this possibility,” he added.

The Khmer Silk Centre launched in April this year. The centre, the first of its kind in the Kingdom, started as an initiative of RUPP in 2017 and was built with contributions from the Japanese government, which gave $90,000, and the United Nations Development Programme, which provided $16,000.

It aims to boost silk production in a country where silk imports dominate the market and where a lack of professionals, research facilities and labour have severely limited output in past decades.

The centre’s research activities will focus on silkworms and mulberry trees with the aim of producing healthy worms that will be distributed to weaving communities, initially in the provinces of Kampong Speu, Mondulkiri, Battambang and Kampong Chhnang.

“Now, we have the technology – and the university has advanced its knowledge of the silkworm to provide a good foundation for an expanded silk sector in Cambodia. Our silkworms are disease-free, resistant to hot temperatures and, at the same time, more productive,” Kalyan added.

Kalyan noted that COVID-19 will create a “new normal” for Cambodia. “One thing we are learning is that Cambodia has to strengthen its rural economy to make it more resilient to future shocks. Within this context, silk could be one element. And we can explore the expansion of others, such as cashew nuts, fruits and vegetables. We are preparing for the medium- to long-term. Now there are many expat Cambodians who have returned home. It is time for us to think innovatively. Agricultural development will not happen easily. We need to plant good seeds,” he said.

During the rainy season, Kalyan said that the university, together with three initial silk leaders
in Kampong Speu, Mondulkiri and Battambang, will roll out silk activities using about 20 hectares of mulberry trees.

 

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