SERICULTURE, the technique of silk production, is an agro-industry, playing an eminent role in the rural economy of India. Silk-fibre is a protein produced from the silk-glands of silkworms.
Historically, sericulture was introduced for the first time, into China by Hoshomin, the Queen of China. For a long time, sericulture was considered to be a national secret by the Chinese Government, and as an industry it was not known in other countries. Later, it was introduced into Europe and Japan as well. According to reports available, sericulture was introduced into India about 400 years back and the industry flourished as an agro-industry till 1857, with an annual production of two million pounds of silk fibre. The industry survived the onslaught of the Pebrine disease during the period from 1857 to 1895. However, after 1928, the sericulture industry showed a decline in its production owing to the fierce competition from advanced sericulture countries, such as Japan, China and European countries. After the Independence, the industry is flourishing as an agro-industry, giving employment to over 3.5 million people in the Country.
The annual production of silk in the world is estimated at 45,000 tonnes of which Japan and China contribute 18,936 and 13,200 tonnes respectively. South Korea, USSR and India are the other leading sericultural countries in the world. The industry has survived the stiff competition with the man-made fibres and it is now estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations that the total requirement of silk by 1980 would be of the order of 80,000 tonnes, leaving a demand of 35,000 tonnes. Japan, which is the premier silk-producing country, owing to its recent industrialisation, high cost of labour and the shortage of land available foe mulberry cultivation, has its limitations in increasing its production. Further, owing to heavy internal consumption, Japan has become an importer of silk, thus widening the gap between production and demand. This situation has given a boost to the sericulture industry in the developing countries, e.g.India and South Korea.
Among the developing countries, India enjoys a very favourable position for doubling the present status of of silk porduction of 2,969 tonnes owing to the low cost of labour. sericulture is ideally suited for improving the rural economy of the country, as it is practised as a subsidiary industry to agriculture. Recent research has also shown that sericulture can be developed as a highly rewarding agro-industry.