A year after launching its own sericulture research centre, the Royal University of Phnom Penh yesterday announced it has successfully bred healthy, high-quality silkworms that are being distributed to weaving communities across the country.
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“Through this achievement, Cambodia will, step by step, reduce imports of silk yarns,” Thavouth Khoun, coordinator of the Silk Research Centre at RUPP, told Khmer Times.
“With these new silkworms, we hope to revitalise the sector, which will help reactive and diversify the national economy, provide more jobs to women and the physically impaired and help preserve our traditional silk weaving culture and techniques,” he said.
A number of centres and silk communities around the country have been selected to test the silkworms, Mr Khoun said. They include Banteay Dek Agriculture Research Station in Kandal province, the Institute of Khmer Traditional Textiles in Siem Reap, and Aoral Silk Community in Kampong Speu.
RUPP will eventually include other silk communities in Mondulkiri and Kampot into the programme, he said.
“Now, our silkworms can produce silk yarns that stretch for 300 metres,” he said, adding they are not yet satisfied with these results, and are conducting research to produce yarns of 800 metres or more.
Mr Khoun explained that RUPP’s silk initiative seeks to infuse new life into a sector with great potential that is not being fulfilled. He said Cambodia demands nearly 400 tonnes of silk yarns a year (amounting to about $30 million), but that local production is just under four tonnes.
He said the local sericulture sector is in a state of decline. It is beset by a number of diseases that affect the silkworm population, as well as a lack of access to modern equipment and technology. He added that the sector is in need of an institution capable of representing the industry and lobbying on its behalf.
Mey Kalyan, chairman of the Board of Trustees at RUPP, said their centre’s achievements should not be underestimated.
“This is the first time that our university could help boost the sericulture sector in Cambodia,” he said. Besides gaining access to high-quality silkworms, the silk communities will also benefit from guidance provided by students at the university, who will volunteer their time to work with them, Mr Kalyan explained.
“We are partnering up with local producers to teach them what we learn, help them improve their technique for growing mulberry trees, and supply them with silkworms,” Mr Kalyan said.
A representative of Aoral Silk Community in Kampong Speu, a community supported by RUPP’s research centre, told Khmer Times yesterday that his farm is now raising 60,000 silkworms supplied by the university, and that it plans to expand to 180,000 silkworms in the near future.
“We hope to start producing Cambodian raw silk yarns by August,” said Ea Hoknym, community silk leader at Aoral.
“We started growing mulberry trees in November last year, and now we have 3.5 hectares dedicated to the plant, growing a total of 22,000 trees. We hope to expand to 10 hectares in the near future,” he said.