Cambodia’s new silk route: Boosting livelihoods and recapturing a rich history
The silk industry is part of Cambodia’s culture, history, and heritage, beginning in the 13th century when Chinese diplomats visited with silk worms, leading to the 19th century where Cambodian design gained “universal recognition.” Yet over time, the Cambodian silk industry has faltered, accounting for only 1% of the required silk for domestic production. Now, raw silk, is imported at high cost of approximately $30 million annually.
But that could be changing.
The Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) has partnered with UNDP – in keeping with the Cambodian Government’s National Silk Strategy -- to help farmers produce their own silk to try to increase the percentage of domestically produced silk. The project will provide silkworms and training to help boost the role of silk production in the Cambodian economy, while helping increase farmers’ incomes.
The initiative supported by the Japanese embassy will also fund research and development in silk production – with an aim to increase silkworm survival from 20% - 90%.
UNDP pledged $40,000 to procure materials and equipment for 200 farmers across 4 provinces to kickstart their silk production venture. On July 31st, 2018, the Kampong Speu community produced its initial 2.5kg yield of silk, and hopes to reach more than 25kg in the future. Depending on quality, a kilo of raw yellow silk can cost anywhere between $60-$90, so Cambodian farmers engaged in this project are likely to receive significant returns on their investment.
The initiative is just the first step in an attempt to recapture the glory days of Cambodian silk and the a multi-million dollar domestic market of the past. With consistent training provided by the RUPP silk center and continued practice of raising silkworms, overall quality and production rates are expected to rise to levels that can replace imports. Developing silk production in Cambodia can boost the economy, as more money stays in the country – promoting domestic consumption and creating growth.
Now the average Cambodian silk farmer produces around 6kg of Cambodian silk per year, relying mainly on older family members to reel yarn by hand. Hand reeling, while cheap – produces silk that is too coarse for international luxury markets. By implementing technology-based solutions: quality, and efficiency of silk production can be increased. At current prices, Cambodian Golden Silk is more profitable than rice. One hectare of rice has an average income of $500-$600 per year versus the average Cambodia Golden Silk production of $810 per Ha per year, and a potential production with RUPP and UNDP support, by developing more efficient silk worms and productions methods, of nearly $2000 of silk per year according to OECD estimations.
Overall, promoting the growth of the Cambodian silk industry recaptures a part of Cambodia’s rich silk history, while benefitting the country’s economy and improving the lives and livelihoods of farmers.