News and knowhow for farmers

Farmers harvest silk cash from naturally growing acacia trees

silk stick cocoon

Residents of dry regions in the country can mint thousands of shillings in a few days by rearing silk worms on the naturally growing acacia trees.

Silkworms are some of the smallest ‘livestock’ that have been reared for centuries globally, but Kenya is yet to realise the high potential in this textile industry raw material.

The small animals feed on mulberry, acacia, and lettuce, among other trees.

Mulberry is the commonest feed, but given that arid and semi-arid regions have acacia trees, it will not be a challenge to farmers.

According to the Nairobi-based International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), one-three mitre acacia trees can comfortably support at least 200 silkworms.

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The organisation buys the yarn from farmers, therefore, no struggle in looking for the market.

A mature worm takes three to four days to form a cocoon of silk around itself.

From this one tree, a farmer would harvest at least 0.375 kilogrammes of silk in three to four days.

On average, 0.375 kg of silk would yield about 2.5 mitres of material. The cost of one mitre of the material ranges between Sh900 and Sh950.

This means a farmer can harvest between Sh2,375 and Sh2,500 from one acacia tree.

With leaves of just 10 acacia trees, a farmer can harvest at least Sh95,000 after one month from just 1,000 silkworms.

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Unfortunately, the livestock does not live for more than two months.

Silkworm eggs take between six and 20 days to hatch, depending on the provided conditions.

They mature after 26 days when they start spinning soft creamy white cocoons from the salivary glands.

The slippery white fluid hardens on contact with air.

The worm will turn into a moth, and a female will mate and lay about 500 eggs.  Males die almost immediately after mating while females do so after about five days.

If the eggs are too many to hatch at once, a farmer can refrigerate them. Hatching takes place within a week if the eggs are kept in temperatures between 78 degrees and 85 degrees. In cool temperatures, they can hatch in two weeks.

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ICIPE has an established training centre for farmers at its Nairobi headquarters targeting women from drier regions.

The faecal material from the creatures is rich organic manure.

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