Silk Farming

Worms are often associated with rot, but for a group of women in Rachuonyo, they are a sign of riches. Silkworm rearing, once looked down upon and met with scepticism, is fast gaining popularity in Kabondo area.

The farmers have organised themselves into groups and receive the silkworms from the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe). Mrs Emily Sikuku Ogweno is a member of the Kabondo Silk Project Group, which has 30 members. Each of these members has at least half an acre of their land under mulberry, which is the staple diet of silkworms.

Mrs Ogweno had been a maize farmer for many years when she heard of silkworm farming and its benefits from an Icipe team. “My farm was only able to produce enough maize for the family, with very little left to sell in the market. But with the silkworm project, I have enough to pay school fees,” she says.

Mr Charles Otieno, the secretary of the Kabondo silk farmers, says that 20,000 silkworms can be reared on a half an acre of mulberry. Silkworms are actually the white caterpillars of the domestic silkworm moth. The moths spin a cocoon that can be processed to produce silk fibre.

Room temperature

The silkworms are fed for approximately 30 days after they have been collected from Icipe, where they are hatched, before they form a cocoon which is dried in readiness for spinning. The rearing must be done at room temperature. “We rear the silkworms in our houses because they need an environment away from direct sunlight, kitchen smoke and odours, and to keep them safe from predators.

“The mulberry should also not be planted near roads as it can accumulate dust, which is toxic to the worms,” Mrs Ogweno says. “We also ensure that the room has adequate circulation, which is good for the silkworms, and which will in turn guarantee good quality cocoons.”

On average, the farmers get 15 kilogrammes of silk thread from a half acre of mulberry. This quantity of thread is sold for between Sh8,250 and Sh10, 000. The initial cost of production is Sh3,000. This includes Sh500 for a crate of 20,000 silkworms and Sh2,500 for 5,000 mulberry cuttings.

After this, the farmer will only be buying the caterpillars because mulberry is perennial and can be used for up to 15 years. The farmer only needs to prune the plants. According to Mrs Ogweno, silkworm farming is not labour-intensive and can be carried out in all seasons.

In addition, she says, farmers are paid as soon as they deliver the silk to the factory, despite the silk thread taking another month to be processed into the final silk fabric. The production of raw silk, one of the most coveted and most expensive textile fabrics in the world, is set to commence in top gear in the area after the recent installations of a Sh6 million machine donated by International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad).

This came at a time when the farmers had managed to put up a building to house the machines with funds from a non-governmental organisation through Icipe and the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) kitty. Mrs Ogweno, however, says that there is need to have more extension officers.

Area MP Oyugi Magwanga says that the management of the Kabondo silk factory has sufficiently spent the Sh498,000 from the CDF. This, he says, demonstrates the management’s commitment to promote silkworm farming. Another Sh1.5 million was allocated for the construction of the factory.

Icipe programme officer Evelyn Nguku says the machine installed in the area will require approximately 10 technicians to operate. “Two workers will be needed for the power loom, another two for twisting and doubling, one person each for warping creel and winding, one for reeling and re-reeling, and another for steaming,” says Dr Nguku. All these are the processes involved in the production of silk thread.


Sericulture, which is the rearing of silkworms for production of raw silk, involves five interdependent agri-industrial steps: mulberry farming for leaf production, silkworm rearing, silk fibre reeling from cocoons, silk fabric weaving or spinning and marketing.

Mr Daniel Rotich, the Western Kenya integrated ecosystem management project livestock officer and a sericulture trainer says that silkworm rearing is gender-friendly and targets vulnerable members in the community, especially women, who provide up to 75 per cent of the labour in the rural areas.

“Silkworm rearing is a simple technology, which can be programmed alongside routine smallholder farm activities,” says the regional project officer. “It can easily complement the role of the existing traditional agricultural enterprises, which have become increasingly ineffective in sustenance of rural livelihoods.”

Silkworm farming is a particularly attractive option for rural off-farm employment and for income generation in areas where food production is marginal and the risk of crop failure high.

Social benefit

It is believed that this method of farming will have the social benefit of reducing illiteracy levels and school dropout rates. “From the income generated, more people will be able to afford education at higher levels and there will also be improvement in health as a result of the increased ability to afford medical care,” Mr Rotich says.


HowKE Team

Here to give precise how to guides. Helping you,Know Everything!