Silk in Uganda?
What I surprise I had when we went to the National Agricultural Research Organization's campus on Wednesday! We went to meet with a soil scientist to discuss what opportunities growing trees on the Lubbe farm could bring. There are several wet areas on the farm that the tractors cannot plow throughout the year and where the weeds grow very rapidly. Watoto is looking at planting eucalyptus in these areas to reduce labor costs. Labor is still intensive during the first two years of growth, but it will greatly reduce as the trees mature. After our meeting, Okello suggested that we go look at the silk worm operations they have on the research station. He had told me about it previously, and I was shocked that silk production was happening in Uganda.
We met Rachel a technician for the program, and she gave us a tour of the facilities. Silkworms are not actually worms; they are the caterpillars, or the larva, of the silk moth. They produce the larva to sell to other producers in the area. They place the eggs in trays and incubate.
Rachel in front of an incubator
Silkworms eat the leaves of the mulberry tree, and the station grows its own trees to feed the larva. These trees rapidly regenerate after cutting, much like mulberries in Oklahoma. The leaves are chopped finely and placed with the larva in order for the larva to grow to production size.
Larva feeding on chopped mulberry leaves
Once the silkworms have reached production size, they are sold to farmers or used at the station. At the station, they are placed into trays in which the caterpillars can begin to form their cocoons of silk.
Developed cocoons of silk
The developed cocoons are then placed in hot water, and the silk is removed and put on a spool.
The machine that removes the silk from the cocoon
It was so fascinating to watch the whole process; my description does not do it justice! I had no idea that they were producing silk in Africa. There is a group of women who purchase the silk for handicrafts. They dye the fibers with natural dyes and crochet beautiful scarves from silk. It just goes to show that you never know what you are going to find in Africa.
Jennifer Bryant is a 2015 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Bryant is from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and is in her first year of the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on international agriculture development and sustainability.