Khmer Times’ Chea Vannak sits down with Ea Hoknym, chairman of the Aoral Silk Community in Kampong Speu province, to discuss Cambodia’s silk industry.
Silk weaving is an important Cambodian tradition. For centuries. Cambodians have planted mulberry trees and raised silkworms. The Khmer Silk Centre, an institution dedicated to research in the silk industry and to revitalising the weaving sector, was launched earlier this month at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
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 ($90,000) and the United Nations Development Programme ($16,000).
KT: Could you tell me about your community?
Mr Hoknym: We began operation as a silk community in 2017, and we now have three silkworm centres, a silkworm rearing machine, and 10 hectares of mulberry trees. We have three teams – for silkworm feeding, for silk rearing, and for planting mulberry trees. The association is composed of 50 families.
KT: What are the main challenges for your community?
Mr Hoknym: To begin with, we have limited space. We only have 10 hectares of land that we can plant with mulberry trees which is a really small space. Also, we have a limited supply of water to irrigate this land.
KT: How much are you producing at the moment?
Mr Hoknym: We can produce only about 10 kilograms of raw silk a year. This is quite low but it is the most we can do given our limited space. We won’t be able to increase production unless we can plant more trees.
KT: What is your main market?
Mr Hoknym: We are targeting the local market because demand for raw silk here is quite big, about 300 to 400 tonnes. But we haven’t started distributing in the local market yet because we have just started producing.
By the end of this year, we plan to begin selling our silk in the local market. There are already many companies interested in our product. This is also interest from abroad, particularly from Japan and the US, but, at the moment, we want to focus on the local market.
KT: How does the quality of silk produced in Cambodia compare to that of imports?
Mr Hoknym: In Cambodia, raw silk is mostly imported from Vietnam and China. Compared to those imports, our silk is stronger and smoother. The price is similar, though – from $60 to $110 per kilogram, depending on the season.
In Cambodia, we produce a unique type of silk called “golden silk”. Many people around the world know this product and associate it with Cambodia.
KT: The Khmer Silk Center, the first facility in the Kingdom dedicated to conducting research in the silk industry, opened last month. What do you expect from the centre? How do you think it will contribute to the development of the industry?
Mr Hoknym: I believe the centre will help Cambodia increase its silk production. We have never had a centre like this, so it is a big deal. The centre has dispatched experts to train communities, including us, in silk production, which I believe will help boost output.
KT: What are your community’s goals in the near future?
Mr Hoknym: In the next two years we plan to increase our production of raw silk. We plan to reach 100 tonnes per year. We also want to expand our mulberry tree plantations to 200 hectares. When it comes to the bigger picture, I think Cambodia’s reputation as a silk-producing country will continue to grow because this is a skill that we had for centuries.