Friday, 20 January 2012

Silk moth rediscovered by SEPALI

The rediscovery of the Ceranchia silk moth brings a flutter of excitement to fledgling farmers in the North East of Madagascar

In 2011 MfM was delighted to team up with a Malagasy conservation and development NGO called SEPALI. Tapping into Madagascar’s rich heritage of silk weaving, SEPALI has launched a project to conserve forests and relieve rural poverty in the North East of Madagascar through the production of wild silk.

Madagascar suffers from acute poverty, environmental decimation with desperate suffering as a consequence. This project enables farmers to earn a living in an environmentally beneficial way. Silk cultivation is a win-win development project for both people and their environment, because in order to produce silk you need to plant trees and look after your local environment so that silk moths will thrive. By helping farmers living on the edge of a ‘Protected Area’ this project helps to preserve endangered species in 2 ways: Primarily, the cultivation of wild silk requires farmers to improve and protect their land and value the eco-system around them. Secondarily, farmers are less likely to need to encroach on the Protected Area if they have an alternative source of income.

So far 69 men and 57 women from 6 poor farming communities on the edge of the Makira Protected Area have each been given 250 indigenous trees to plant. Already 15,000 trees have been planted. In 2 years time these trees will become the host plants for the farmers’ silk worms. In between these trees farmers are planting vegetable crops to reduce predators on the silk moth larvae as well as providing much needed food for themselves. The results of this project will be: silk to sell, food to eat and a well cared-for local eco-system.

Of course the farmers aren’t just sitting around waiting for their trees to grow! As well as planting and tending their trees and crops, the farmers are making the equipment they will need for silk production, meeting to exchange ideas and train new farmers and even rediscovering a forgotten species of silk moth! The rediscovery of the Ceranchia silk moth by SEPALI in 2011 opens up potential for producing new silk products.

Meanwhile, in the US, project pioneer Dr Craig is exploring markets for SEPALI’s exotic new silk products including garments, furnishing and jewellery made from pressed silk cocoons.

With this dress made from pressed silk cocoons making it on to a New York catwalk this year, the SEPALI team is excited by potential new interest in their products.

We look forward to sharing more news from Makira as we follow the story of the farmers who are trying to improve their environment and their livelihoods with the help of indigenous silk moths.