Sustainable Exploitation of Wild Silks in Sub-Saharan Africa (2013 - 2014)

The purpose of the project is to demonstrate the sustainability and economic viability of sericulture specifically wild silk production from native species, as a complementary smallholder farming activity in sub-Saharan Africa. Silks are as yet barely exploited in Africa, although their potential is clear and has long been recognized. With high labor demand and little capital investment required they are ideally suited to rural development, including the generation of off-farm employment. Native wild silk in particular has potential as a sustainably exploitable resource. Development of simple technology that allows reeling of these silks will increase their value significantly, and provide a diversified income to smallholders. We propose an in-depth analysis of the viability of African sustainable sericulture, focusing particularly on the potential benefits to both income generation and the environment from increased production of native silks.

The project will be divided into the following areas, covered in three work packages.
• Demonstrating the commercial viability of rearing wild silkmoths such as Gonometa, and of demineralizing and reeling their silk
• Trialing community-level cultivation of silkmoths in intercropped and sericulture systems, both for farmers and pastoralists
• Identifying the markets for quality wild silk products, both within Africa and for export
• A comprehensive assessment of the sustainability of silk production, using cradle-to-gate Life Cycle Analysis, as well as socioeconomic impact and issues in adoption and dissemination of good practice

Using such native silks in an agroforestry or intercropped context has two advantages. The cocoons provide an additional source of income to the farmers without requiring large investment or the commitment to sericulture alone. We expect that the associated lower risk to a farmer of this method will increase adoption of semi-domesticated sericulture. Additionally, the diversified output will ensure that price volatility in commodities market will have less of an effect in farmer incomes. A second set of benefits derives from the moths host trees. Native acacias have been demonstrated to increase soil health and can have significant impact on yields. FAO and other agricultural institutions advocate the increased use of the ‘fertilizer trees’, particularly in areas with poor soil fertility. It is expected that the direct financial benefits of sericulture will increase adoption of these beneficial practices.

The Department of Textiles of Ghent University (BE) is the research coordinator of this project. Other partners are Oxford Silk Group/Oxford Biomaterials (UK), Strawberries Fabrics (NL), Northern Rangelands Trust (Kenya) and Moi University at Eldoret (Kenya)

Supported by: ERA-ARD
Duration:01/2013 - 12/2013
Contact: Prof. Dr. ir. Lieva Van Langenhove