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Thailand:The Thai Silk Road
Author:  admin     PublishDate:  2007-06-27      Hit:  6090
Silk is one of the most beautiful of all fibres and is widely acclaimed as the queen of textiles. It comes from the cocoon of the silkworm and requires a great deal of handling and processing that makes it one of the most expensive fibres.

A national craft: Sericulture or silk production has been practiced in Thailand for centuries. At present some 200,000 village households produce silk in various forms. Although silk is produced in 48 provinces in Thailand, more than 97% is produced in the Northeast, with 60% of the households concentrated in just four provinces: Khon Kaen, Maha Sarakham, Buri Ram and Nakhon Ratchasima.

Complex production: Thailand's silk industry is relatively complex. Some farmers raise silkworms and sell cocoons for processing in factories, some raise silkworms, reel the cocoons and sell silk yarn, either to villagers or to weaving factories. Some villagers buy yarn and concentrate on dyeing and weaving. Still others complete the whole process from planting and maintaining their own mulberry plots in order to produce and sell dyed woven fabrics and products. Some factories import silk yarn.

Concentrated production: Traditionally, sericulture is predominantly carried out by women, providing important additional income. Farmers often regard sericulture as a secondary activity, with their main occupation directed to growing rice, field crops, livestock rearing or hired labour. They mainly rear native yellow silkworms, reel yarn by hand and then weave their yarn on traditional handlooms and sell their products to local agents.

Labour-intensive: Once raised on mulberry leaves, silkworms make cocoons comprising up to 500 metres of continuous thread. These cocoons are boiled in water so that the fibres can be loosened, extracted, twisted and spun into silk thread. Several threads are then combined to form yarn. The yarn is then woven into silk fabric. This process is labour-intensive; one silkworm produces very little usable silk, requiring more than 650 worms and 100 hours of labour to produce sufficient fabric for one scarf. The environmental impact of silk processing however is low in its initial stages compared to cotton or wool.

National capacity: A new report by the Institute for Science and Technology, Research and Development of the Chiang Mai University, says Thailand produces only 1,400 tonnes of silk yarn per year. Most silk is destined for the domestic market with silk exports generating a revenue of approximately 22.9 million euros, contributing a 0.39% share of the Kingdom's total textile exports in 2006.

Increasing competition: Of the silk export trade, 64% is made up of yarns and raw fabric, 24% as garments and accessories with the remaining 12% as home textiles. Thailand relies heavily imported raw silk to meet demand due to the limited, inconsistent and costly domestic supply for higher-quality local product. Most raw silk is being imported from China and Vietnam.

In the face of increasing competition and erosion of local skills, silk exports from Thailand decreased considerably from 813 tonnes in 2001 to 698 tonnes in 2006. The number of sericulture farmers has also declined dramatically over the past decade. This decline is more pronounced than the overall decline of agricultural employment.

Limited integration: In contrast to Vietnam and China, few companies in Thailand have fully integrated silk production. However, Northeastern Thailand has retained its rich heritage of craft skills required for silk production. This includes a variety of traditional fabric designs, knowledge of textures and handloom weaving skills passed from mother to daughter.

Although this particular supply chain is long and complex, with limited national co-ordination on R&D and design; the silk produced on handlooms in the Northeast region has a distinct marketing opportunity where neither artificial fabric mills nor power looms can compete.

In summary: Demand for Northeast home textiles in Europe comes from a niche market where customers are willing to pay high prices for ecologically sound, hand-woven fashion materials, produced organically and under fair-trade conditions. There are opportunities to compete worldwide but Thai sericulture needs proper professional R&D, design input to anticipate fashion trends, compliance with certification schemes, and vigorous promotion.

Source: Bangkokpost News
 
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