The entrepreneurial spirit is alive even in the remote villages of Meghalaya. Why else would a lady farmer, Kong* Tharina, from village Mawlyngngot travel all the way to our office, which is a good 45 km away and ask to be trained in rearing Eri silkworms?
Kong Tharina holding the Eri silkworms.
* local dialect. A respectful way of addressing ladies in Meghalaya.
An Opportunity Is for Grabbing
Kong Tharina saw an opportunity and came to Muezart ready to be trained! She brought six of her village friends with her. She sought out Khraw and Badshai. She came because she had fire in her belly to find an additional source of income for herself and her village folks.
This is Kong Tharina’s story - brought to you as it unfurled, as she stepped into unchartered territory.
Watch the short videos of the day Kong Tharina:
How It All Started
Muezart team had gone on an Epic Journey and visited Kong Tharina's village in January 2019.
There are no roads to her village and whatever produce or product they transport to the market to sell must be carried by them.
Farmer Lurshai of village Wah Umsong had shared with us a strategy to make it profitable for farmers in such conditions:
“Select an item that is easy to grow, easy to carry and high-value low volume.”
Eri cocoons, as Kong Tharina found out, fit this criteria matrix.
Kong Tharina had got the essence of this strategy. She had heard about Eri cocoons from Khraw when he had visited her village with the Muezart team. Khraw had given her a brief on Eri silkworm rearing and had suggested she try it. He promised to train her and others. She could see that Eri silk cocoons would be a good product. From what she had heard she understood that silk cocoons are easy to propagate, easy to carry and there is a ready market for them through Muezart Yarn and Fiber products. That too her village had the right climate and food for the Eri silkworms.
Spirit of Entrepreneurship - Ready to Try New Opportunities
Kong Tharina knew very little about Eri silkworms, but she trusted Khraw and other team members of Muezart to coach her. Without wasting time, she came for a training session!
One-day Intense Training
On September 12th, 2019 a Tata Suma pulled up outside the Muezart facility and out came Kong Tharina and 6 others – some of whom were from villages near hers. A bunch of smiling, happy farmers eager for the training to begin. Ready to step into an unchartered road, ready to try a new farming activity to supplement their income.
The training started. It covered all aspects of Eri silkworm rearing – from eggs to the moth to the cocoon stage. They were shown all the stages of this 45 days cycle. They then knew what the eggs, the cocoon, and the moth looked like.
Some of them hesitated to touch the worms, as they had never seen anything like it before! But, by the end of the training one of them said, “we know these worms will be our friends in the future. We will take good care of them”
Khraw suggested three good places in their homes where they could set up space to rear the silkworms.
They were shown the leaves that the worms feed on – Castor, Tapioca, Paiam, and Kesseru. In and around their village they grow two varieties of Tapioca. So, the food for the silkworms was taken care of. No worry on that count. Seeds for Castor were given since the castor leaf is the leaf that makes the fiber stronger and longer.
The villagers were trained on easy ways to feed the silkworms and ways to clean the waste so that the worms would stay healthy.
Kong Tharina and others were taught about the ideal temperature for rearing silkworms and coached on the cleanliness and safety aspects.
Wow! The Possibilities and a Revelation
To bring the training full circle they were introduced to natural dyeing – how plant colors are used to dye silk yarn and Eri silk cloth.
Kong Tharina made an astute observation, “We have a lot of resources. All God’s gift. We just need to use them smartly”
The best was yet to come. When they saw the finished fabrics and products of Eri silk that came from the cocoons, they were blown away and their excitement was palpable. There was a childlike excitement in the room.
The women had never been exposed to the process of metamorphosis. This came to light when we passed around a beautiful handwoven natural dyed Eri silk shawl.
A hand-woven Eri silk shawl made by local Meghalaya artisans. See more handmade accessories in the Muezart store
A younger kong asked, “Does this come from the cocoon?” Her eyes had a sparkle of awe in them. Khraw quickly showed her the yarn that was being spun from the cocoons. Then we showed them natural plant-based yarn. Their amazement grew. Kong said, “I never imagined that such a beautiful expensive fabric could come from a moth laying an egg.” Khraw corrected her and explained that from the egg the caterpillars create the cocoon. The six friends of Kong Tharina began to connect the dots.
They talked about how they only knew about the natural Eri scarf called Jain Ryndia with the kantang that is given to honored visitors and dignitaries like a minister, as a show of respect. The group was aware of the high cost of the Jain Ryndia.
They had not realized that plants could color the yarn and create the colors on the shawl that they held in their hands. They could only look to God and in summary said, “He makes all this happen.” We passed around the handwoven natural dyed shawl. Learning where the Eri silk yarn came from was a moment of revelation for them.
They also mentioned that when they saw the cocoon they were thinking that the fabric will not be strong, but they admitted that they were wrong and the fabric is indeed very strong, and beautiful.
Ready, Set, Go!
Before Kong Tharina and other farmers left to return home they were handed the silkworm eggs.
The eggs we handed to them immediately became a possession of great value.
Their journey into the world of Eri silkworm rearing had begun and soon (eggs hatch in 5 days) they had to start feeding some very hungry caterpillars!
As they left Kong Tharina said, “this is the first time for us. We may fail. But we will work to succeed.”
An Eri Silkworm Farming Hub in the Making?
We at Muezart felt truly humbled that we got the opportunity to show Kong Tharina and other farmers a new source of livelihood. We had come full circle from the time we visited Kong Tharina’s village 9 months earlier
Muezart team now could test an alternate source of food for the silkworms. Read our post on how Badshai was researching to identify leaves for the silkworms to feed on during the dry months when castor leaves are not available. Tapioca, he found out, is a good alternative and there was a bunch of farmers ready to give it a try.
Tapioca grows all through the year in the area in and around Kong Tharina’s village, Mawlyngngot.
They have running streams supplying mineral-rich water. Also, the weather is warmer.
So many signs pointing to Kong’s village and the area around it becoming an Eri silk cocoon supplying hub and all the families benefitting. Of course, this will be a supplemental income for them, augmenting the small agricultural income they now have. Something that will take them beyond subsistence and open a bigger market for them.
Eri silkworm rearing is, after all, a conscious business – eco-friendly, humane (as the caterpillars are not killed before the silk yarn is made unlike in other silks) and has a short production cycle – of up to 2 months - from eggs to cocoon stage. Every two months they could have a batch of cocoons to sell. Would that not be great?
The Muezart team members felt fulfilled when they wound up for the day after the training session.
I hope this little story, a narrative around true events, was informative and inspired you to see opportunities in your midst. Do you have a question or want to share an idea? Please reach out to us.