Weaving trouble: Karnataka silk farmers giving up on trade over import duty

Weaving trouble: Karnataka silk farmers giving up on trade over import duty
Weaving trouble: Karnataka silk farmers giving up on trade over import duty
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Karim watches as silk traders raise their bids for the silk cocoons at the government market in Ramanagaram district, Karnataka and remembers of a time when he too, like these traders would visit this market. 
“Five years back even I was a sericulture farmer, but due to heavy losses I left the trade,” he says.
Like Karim, many other farmers are looking to leave the sericulture trade as they no longer find it profitable because of reduction in import duty, unseasonal weather and falling prices.
Karnataka is one of the largest producers of silk in the country, contributing more than 60% of India’s total raw silk production. Of this, about 30% are directed towards exports. Within the state Channapatna, Ramanagaram, Kanakapura and Magadi are the largest producing regions. 
Initially, many Karnakata farmers had taken up silk farming owing to its low input cost. Some even took this up in addition to their regular farming practice to gain an extra source of income. 
However, things changed in 2011 after the Indian government cut import duty on silk, which made importing Chinese silk cheaper. 
“When the import duty on silk came down and Chinese silk flooded the market, people began buying Chinese silk, as they are slightly better in quality as compared to domestic silk,” Raju Sanathkumar, a sericulture farmer at the market from Mandya district says.
But the further 5% reduction in import duty by the Finance Ministry this year irked farmers enough to bring them to the streets. According to The Hindu, farmers dumped cocoons on the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway on May 17 to protest the decline in the prices.
Even Congress leader Veerappa Moily raised the issue in the Lok Sabha on May 11 saying, “There is a sharp fall in prices of raw silk; sharp fall in prices of cocoons in the cocoon markets; reduction in prices of cocoons and raw silk, which directly resulted in large-scale uprooting of mulberry gardens; and loss of capital invested by reelers and sericulturists, which has affected all the sericulture farmers and they are on the streets.” 
Apart from this, the Nepal earthquakes in April also disrupted the lives of the silk farmers. Karnataka exports a huge quantity of silk to Nepal, so after the neighbouring country suspended imports temporarily it led to a sudden fall in prices. 
Many sericulture farmers in Karnataka, who borrowed huge sums of money to support their trade, ended up taking drastic measures. In one case in May, a mother-son duo, who had taken a loan, committed suicide in Channapatna after prices crashed by at least 40% the day they took the cocoons to the market. 
Srinivasa Murthy, a supervisor at the Government Cocoon Market in Ramanagaram, also tells the The News Minute of two other farmer suicides related to the fall in silk prices that took place in the district in May.
The unseasonal rains this year have also added to the farmers’ misery. 
“The heavy rains did not allow the cocoons to grow well, making it of inferior quality. Due to this, the prices had dropped as low as Rs 140. But the prices have picked up in the last few days. It has already come up to Rs 240,” Srinivasa says.
However, Raju Sanathkumar says the rains are the least of their worries at this point and unless the import duty is brought back up, there is little hope for sericulture in the state.
“The decline in prices due to rains is temporary. Prices generally pick up in a couple of days. But, the import duty cut continues to be a thorn in the flesh,” he says.

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