Joy in Uganda as advanced post cocoon machines arrive in Sheema district

Key information: 

  • Engineers will come from China (where the machines were made) to install, train “selected energetic-hardworking young men and women as engineers to work in the factory”.
  • TRIDI is championing sericulture project in Uganda—with Sheema district in the lead.
  • Lira University, Amolatar, and Otuke districts in the Lango sub-region have both offered land for Sericulture project.
  • Sheema district to get Science and Technology Hub (STH) with funding from MoSTI.
  • Uganda will produce approximately 67kgs of raw silk per day, equivalent to 16MT annually.

Rubare Station, Sheema—30, May 2021: Commercialization of Sericulture technologies and innovations in Uganda will soon reach expected successes after the arrival of machines for the establishment of a silk factory in Sheema district.

Sericulture is the art and science of rearing silkworms for the production of raw silk and its product of silk. Silk is a natural protein fibre; some forms are woven into textiles.

In addition, sericulture is an “eco-friendly agro-based labor-intensive and commercially attractive economic activity”. It falls under cottage and small-scale sectors. It is widely expected to replace cotton, a cash crop that was widely grown by most farmers in Uganda up to the early 90s.

In trying to boost the morale of farmers, enhance their livelihoods and the economy, on Friday 28, May 2021, locals, silk farmers, district leaders, and officials from the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovations (MoSTI) were excited to witness different machines imported from China for the establishment of a silk factory.

The ministry team was led by the former Minister for (MoSTI), Hon. Dr. Elioda Tumwesige.

Mr. Clet Wandui Masiga is the Executive Director at Tropical Institute for Development Innovations (TRIDI) whose organization is playing momentous roles in sericulture.

The institute aims to promote the “application and advancement of science, technology, innovations, and next-generation management practices (STIMPS) to enhance entrepreneurship, productivity, manufacturing, and processing”.

Clet Wandui Masiga, the Executive Director (TRIDI) in headgear explaining making an explanation to the former minister Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye.

Sheema district is currently leading the project. As per the document this publication has seen, commercialization of Sericulture Technologies and Innovations in Uganda was part of the project supported by the Innovation Fund in the fiscal year 2017/2018.

Since its inception, as per the same document, the project is partly being funded by the government of Uganda through MoSTI and supervised by the National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST).

“When we started, we had several meetings, and the process has not been very smooth. Some of you have been observers and might have seen where the meetings started, starting the farm and how much silk we were getting per day; the bush or shrubs that we found around and what it’s today,” Mr. Masiga said while addressing jubilant stakeholders on Friday.

“The machines will create jobs and the machines have been produced by the world’s number one company that makes silk processing machines,” he added.

According to him, engineers will come from China (where the machines are made) to install and train “selected energetic-hard-working young men and women as engineers to work in the factory”.

Mr. Li Chao is the CEO of Seres Textile Company Limited in Quanshan district, Xuzhou, in China. He told TND News on Friday that the installation of machines starts next month after engineers from China have arrived.

“Installation will take two months and training of machine operators will take four months,” he added.

Speaking to this publication in an exclusive interview on 28, May 2021 at Rubare station in Sheema, Mr. Mugume Naboth Ngambe—the Sheema district entomologist, says a long time ago people grew cotton but it couldn’t make profits for them.

“… so, they are trying to abandon cotton since silk growing is now the best alternative to cotton and fibre because silk is a high-value crop which is grown and a farmer fetches a lot of money from just one acre if you compare to cotton.”

He says with one acre of mulberry with about 1,800 trees, a farmer is able if he rears silkworms to sell fresh cocoons (these are cocoons harvested on the same day) and can be taken for sale the same day.

“If a farmer sells wet cocoon, he gets between shs8m to shs10m per year of mulberry.”

However, if a farmer can now dry a cocoon and sell each kilogram at shs13, 000, he can fetch over shs14m per acre of mulberry per year.

According to Mr. Ngambe, this makes it a high-value cash crop compared to the rest of the other cash crops in Uganda.

Asked about the challenges sericulture farmers are facing, he said that the major challenge is the high cost (initial cost of establishment). For instance, he says, “silkworms need a rearing house”.

He added that a farmer “needs some investments to put up a rearing house, rearing beds and other equipment”.

Mr. Ngambe reiterates that the project is labor-intensive and that a farmer must be available. “A farmer needs to feed worms 4-5 times a day. We expect him or her to train a family member to take up this role in case he or she will not be available to attend to the farm.”

Political blessings, ministry’s commitment  

Addressing the stakeholders, the Sheema district LC5 Chairperson, Jemimah Tumwijukye, 68, says the district will offer more support for the project after their MP, also the former minister, Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, started it.

“Good leaders leave better leaders behind. You do not need to worry, you do not need to lament. Leaders come, leaders go,” she said.

“When you came in, there were other leaders before. I also came in. What we want is to steer Sheema ahead with the good projects we have,” she added.

The district chairperson requested the MoSTI Permanent Secretary (was represented by Mr. Basil Ajer), Director Technoprenuership at the ministry to allow the sericulture project to be implemented in all the municipalities in the country.

“Let’s integrate into the National Development Plan 3 (NDP3) since we have the land,” she asks. Sheema district local government has also allocated 40 acres of land for the establishment of the Science and Technology Hub.

“I can assure you; under my leadership, we shall give you more. To us, we love our district and we are ready to work with you,” she assured the PS representative.

In his earlier speech, Mr. Clet Wandui Masiga said the project is currently in 23 stations in 13 districts in Uganda, and 1,000 acres of land are now in use. The target is to have over 50,000 acres of land in the coming years.

Lira University, Otuke, and Amolatar districts in Lango sub-region have allocated 50 acres of land for sericulture project, according to Mr. Basil Ajer from MoSTI.

He commended commitments by the out-growers and stakeholders for maintaining the project that is becoming a reality.

Mr. Ajer assured the people of Sheema that because they have shown that they are reliable stakeholders, the ministry will offer them more support.

On the project sustainability (white elephant) as he called it, he said the outgoing LC5 chairperson (Mr. Laban Muhabwe) told him they have out-growers. He (Ajer) termed it a “commitment which gives him confidence they (farmers) are heading in the right direction”.

“You have accepted sericulture, embrace and love it. If you don’t love what you are doing, you don’t go far,” he told the farmers and different stakeholders.

On Science and Technology Hub requested by Sheema district, he said, “We got your letter confirming you will offer the land…”

Addressing the event as the Guest of Honor, Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, said on 12 April 2003, president Museveni came here (Sheema). In addition, by that time, he says he was already a Member of Parliament.

From that time to date, he added the president is in love with silk and that the president often mentions his name at a big function over silk farming.

“I got worried when silk failed to take off after the president got impressed…..” a former minister, Dr. Elioda who started his speech with a story of a rich man controlling oil project in Nigeria (but was not at peace with himself), and the disabled children he donated to them wheelchairs on the request of a friend, said.

Former Minister for Science, Technology, and Innovations and former Sheema Municipality MP, Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye (on a yellow mask) speaking to stakeholders last week on Friday

The minister also says their aim is to get 60,000 acres of mulberry. “Our aim is to ensure that by end of 5 years we have a company (Ugandan owned) to be listed on the Stock Exchange.”

On the status of cotton, he says it is the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries to handle it. However, he told the media that “because as a leader, in the country, we are promoting coffee and others but silk is a special class”.

On the global demand for silk, he says it is “immeasurable”, adding, “India has a population of 1.3b people who put on silk; Japanese also put on silk so India alone doesn’t produce enough silk, they are importing it from China”.

“With silk, you don’t scratch down there, you don’t get allergy,” he told media with a smiling face.

Asked how much the ministry has invested in the project, he reveals that “some little money in terms of research.” “Even this we are trying to do is research; to confirm how much you can get from an acre, to confirm the best way of rearing silkworms.”

He says the ministry’s budget is still small. “A year for the entire country is like shs8b which is still low but we hope they will increase it and we will put much more for the entire country.”

Cost-benefit analysis of raw silk (yarn) and fabric production per annum

Using the Bivoltine Cocoons, 1kg of silk yarn is equivalent to 6 kgs of cocoons. Therefore, if 1080 kgs of cocoons are harvested from 6 cycles of silkworms rearing, 180kgs of silk yarn (raw silk) is produced per year using innovations at Rubare station, Sheema district. At an average rate of USD 50/kg of yarn, it is USD9, 000, which is equivalent to UGX 33, 750,000 from one acre of mulberry per annum.

Using 40 Ends Automatic Reeling Machine, Uganda will produce approximately 67kgs of raw silk per day, equivalent to 16MT annually (assuming 250 working days per year).

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