Kapangan’s Silk Cocoons

Let’s give kudos to whoever thought of introducing silkworm farming in Kapangan. It seems like its going to be a success. Photo credit: John Javellana/Reuters.

Silkworms give Philippine farming town a makeover
By Manny Mogato/Reuters
KAPANGAN – Hundreds of white mulberry trees have started to cover mountain slopes deep in the northern Philippines’ Cordillera region, changing not just the landscape but also making over the image of a poor farming town.

Up until the early 2000s, the upland villages of Kapangan, a vegetable growing town of 18,000 people in Benguet province, was widely known as one of the country’s largest cultivation areas of an illegal plant — marijuana.

“We’ve started something to erase that tag,” Roberto Canuto, a public attorney in the province who was elected mayor in 2007, told Reuters. “We’re determined to be known as something else, perhaps, the silk capital of the country.”

Canuto said some farmers have started growing mulberry trees, the main food of silk-producing worms from China and Japan, after sericulture was introduced in nine of Kapangan’s 15 villages in late 2004.

“We’re expanding the mulberry plantation to accommodate more farmers willing to go into silkworm operations,” he said, adding many farmers got excited after initial trials produced about 25 kilos of rawsilk, sold at $50 per kilogram early this year.

Wilbur Teofilo, leader of a 33-member farmers’ cooperative in Kapangan, said they have started upgrading 11 “rearing houses” and building nine more to raise rawsilk production to 250 kilos every two months this year.

“We can easily produce about 500 kilos of rawsilk every two months when our operations go on full blast,” Teofilo said, showing a box containing thousands of fresh cocoons, leftovers from last month’s production.

“This could be the perfect alternative to marijuana because it would also take six to eight months to harvest mulberry leaves that would be fed to hungry worms. This could give us extra cash without taking any risks.”

Fe Donato, an official from the Fibre Industry Development Authority, said the silkworm project could produce as much as 2,000 kilos of rawsilk every year once operations expand in two years, bringing in an extra 4 million pesos ($95,690) for the farmers.

Like most other farmers in his village, members of Teofilo’s cooperative were not ready to admit they had cultivated marijuana in the past before getting into sericulture.

But, it was no secret that some farmers in the town were able to construct modest mansions only from raising vegetables, such as cucumbers, chayote and potatoes.

Daniel Baligar, a member of the town’s legislative council, said some farmers had taken the risks because cultivating the illegal plant costs less and was not so tedious.

“But, they were planting marijuana in the most inaccessible parts of the mountains, making it difficult for authorities to detect and eradicate the plants,” he said.

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Teofilo said farmers in his village were willing to give the silkworm project a try because the potential for providing them extra cash was huge based on the initial experiments since 2004.

“What’s important for us was to find new ways to improve our finances through honest means,” he said, pointing to an area in the mountain where they had started a mulberry plantation.

“Of course, we like most people to know that we’re no longer the marijuana capital in the country. It really gives us a bad name and we wanted that erased forever.”

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