Second maker

The Rearers as Nurturers

Ahimsa Eri Silk is a conscientious alternative to general Eri silk where the silkworm completes their lifecycle and dies a natural death leading to another cycle of life. This makes the role of rearer the most crucial aspect of the project as this stage determines the intention of non injury put into direct application to the life of silkworm.


Rearing-based livelihood beneficiary: 187 households
Rearing region: Mataikhar zone, Assam
Villages involved: Mataikhar, Umsur, Nawgaon, Patgaon, Salser,
Billpara, Ranibari, Jimiligaon, Bakhalapara, Longsai and a few others.


 

Role of a Rearer


 

 

Nurturing

One female can lay about 300-500 eggs and if those are reared well, then the mortality rate is quite low. The rearer tends to the whole lifecycle most gently to nurture health and life for each life cycle keeping them close in the vicinity of his home. Unfortunately, the story of Sericulture hubs is different leaving a very high mortality rate because of lack of life-nurturing care, leading to much intended and unintended violence in the process of making general Eri silk.

Collection of Eggs

During mating phase, the rearer collects thousands of eggs every morning and evening by gently scraping them off the surface of the hanging cloth on which they lay eggs. The rearer also carefully collects those eggs that fall on the ground. This engages a large part of rearer’s daily routine. Each day’s collection is segregated in different baskets to phase them out for hatching and prepare the feed accordingly.

Egg bank/ creating livelihood opportunities:

To forward the ethic of intentional non- injury, we have introduced an idea of Egg-bank or Egg-sharing. If the rearer collects excess eggs that are beyond his capacity to rear, he shares them with other Eri silk rearers rather than abandoning them as is often seen in Sericulture units. This ensures not only respect for life but also enables other rearers for livelihood opportunities. This has also resulted in few more rearers feeling encouraged to attempt Ahimsa Eri Silk rearing.

Plantation

Though Eri Instars can also feed on a couple of other leaves, they go through the healthiest cycle with Castor leaves. While castor plants grow abundantly in this region, the rearer also dedicates a patch of his plantation land for a healthy and consistent supply of castor leaves for daily feed.

Collection of leaves, daily feed of silkworms

A good feed yields good health that yields good life cycle and good silk. So, a rearer looks after the feed of the silkworms like a mother to her child. The new born Instars get tender leaves while the mature ones get mature leaves. The rearer carefully collects fresh leaves from the plantation every morning and evening.

Feeding

 Eggs are introduced to tender leaves when the worms are about to burst out of eggs. When eggs hatch into Instars, fresh tender leaves are given. Till first two shedding, mid size leaves are kept down flat on the basket and the worms feed by crawling. After second shedding, they grow dramatically and start to crawl upwards. From then on, they are fed with bunch of leaves hanging leafy side down on the basket. The Instars crawl up and down throughout the day feeding onto more mature castor leaves till they are mature enough to make cocoons.

Leaf assortment and bunch making for worm feed

The rearer’s daily routine involves collecting, selecting and making right size bunch for each phase of worm growth.

Cleaning

Just as much they eat, that much they excrete. This demands daily cleaning for a hygienic environment for silkworms. Removal of naturally dying silkworms from the group is also needed as they can infect the other healthy worms. After a moth finishes their life cycle, their lifeless bodies are either fed as protein to the chicken or added to the soil where they transform into excellent compost.

Protecting from parasite

Being high on protein, silk worms and moths are a favourite delicacy for family’s home-bred roosters. The rearer creates a safe enclosure from notorious visits of these parasites. Often, family’s primary engagement in a day can be running after roosters chasing them away from the silkworms. Another deadly parasite for silkworm is houseflies. A single bite to a worm can cause death resulting from infection.

Cocoon – making set up

Once they are full of Eri fibre, they stop eating and start crawling around away from leaves. Upon rubbing the Instars, one hears a sound like that of rubbing the fibre/ fabric between fingers. This is when the rearer gets to know that they are full of fibre and ready for cocoon making. He then aids their shift to a new ideal setting- bunch of lychee leaves or kaseru leaves bound where they begin making the cocoon. They first crawl up the bunch, then come down and find their spot for cocoon making where they lie for about 2 days till the completion of cocoon.

Shifting of Cocoons

Once the cocoons are ready, the rearer gently removes the full cocoons from the leaves and places them on a bamboo flat basket or stand where they remain for about 15-20 days. The rearer keeps this basket protected from any attack by covering it carefully with a net.

Set up for Moth-becoming

Once moth appears out of cocoons, the rearer collects the moths and places them in a safe set up of a hanging cloth inside an enclosure. This protects them from bird and rooster attack while still being able to freely flutter and fly around. Here is where they mate and start their new reproductive cycle by laying eggs. This is also where they finish their life cycle. After reproduction, they get weak and cannot remain hanging on the cloth any longer. Soon, then drop on the floor and die after fluttering for some time, making way for another life cycle.

Cocoon Collection

Once cocoons are left empty by the moths, they are all scanned carefully and collected by the rearer. He then weighs them and packs them into sacs. We have named these naturally emptied cocoons, Ahimsa cocoons.

After this step, the rearer’s responsibility shifts to the next cycle and he forwards ready cocoons to the next step of production, From Ahimsa Eri cocoons to Ahimsa Eri Silk yarn.