Targets Frw10 billion export sales annually
With an investment of $5 million (Frw2.72 billion), Usine Textile du Rwanda (Utexrwa), the only textile company in the country, will begin producing its first commercial silk fabrics by mid next year.
Already, machines have been imported, manpower trained and samples of silk fabrics made.
Once all constraints are addressed and full capacity begins, Utexrwa management targets an export sales turnover of about $15-20 million (Frw8.1-10.9 billion) per annum in the next four to five years.
With this capacity, industrial players say Rwanda will become a leading silk products producer in the region.
The silk manufacturing follows the company’s importation of semi-automatic yarning machines at the end of last year, having begun mulberry cultivation on 25 hectares earlier at the Nyandungu site.
Utexrwa Managing Director Raj Rajendran is optimistic that in the next four to five years the mill will be the sole supplier of processed silk in the Great Lakes region.
The company is currently converting its capacity from a cotton textile mill to silk production.
He is however concerned that the cocoons produced by farmers are still below capacity and the skilled labour in the country is not enough.
Currently there are 1,000 cocoons and yet 60,000 are needed. So far 85 people have been trained and 50 more will be trained before they commence to full silk production.
To bridge the gap, Rajendran explained that people need to be trained about mulberry cultivation and silk worm rearing as well as seek for more funding before the company can begin fully producing silk fibre.
Utexrwa has now embarked on producing silkworm eggs to provide ample supply to all its associates in the industry around the world.
Imports of silkworm eggs from South Korea and India have proved to be unaffordable, as it cost $2 (Frw1,091).
The company also invented a hatching machine which has therefore made local production of eggs become imperative to boost expansion plans.
A sericulture consultant at Utexrwa, M. I. Gulshath, explained that the fabric is produced when silk moths lay eggs on specially prepared paper.
The eggs then hatch and the caterpillars (silkworms) are fed on fresh mulberry leaves.
Approximately 35 days later and four moltings (or sheddings) the caterpillars are 10,000 times heavier than when hatched, and are ready to begin spinning a cocoon.
A straw frame is then placed over the tray of caterpillars, and each caterpillar begins spinning a cocoon by moving its head in a ‘figure 8’ pattern, Gulshath said.
He said that two glands produce liquid silk and force it through openings in the head. Liquid silk is coated in sericin, a water-soluble protective gum, and solidifies on contact with the air.
Within two to three days, the caterpillar spins about one mile of filament and is completely encased in a cocoon.
Gulshath said most caterpillars are then killed by heat and some are allowed to morph into moths to breed the next generation of caterpillars.
More hectares of mulberry trees In a long term plan, government also aims to have 600,000 hectares of mulberry trees planted in the next three years to benefit 60,000 poor families.
Rwanda Investment Group has planted 20 hectares of mulberry in Rusizi, Western Province.
The government also pledged about Frw154 million particularly for training about 60 people to handle production, training in various sericulture activities including mulberry farming activities, silkworm rearing and weaving to ensure that they produce quality silk products.
Utexrwa with the joint support of Rural Sector Support (RSSP) has established Gasabo Sericulture Cooperative to handle production and marketing of silk.
Under the cooperatives farmers would be supplied with mulberry cuttings for free since the project would recover egg costs.
Ecole Technique Officielle, (ETO) a local technical institute is also providing technical knowledge and skills to cooperative about silk production.
With these in place, the company also hopes to see the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rise to $60 million (Frw32.7 billion).
The managing director said that silk production will boost the country’s economy by export revenues and jobs creation.
It is expected that 6,000 jobs in farm and rural sectors and about 500 additional jobs within the industry will be created.
The factory now employs about 740 (both skilled and unskilled) people.
The mulberry seed cuttings that were imported from Uganda usually take 10-12 months before harvest.
According to Rajendran, the factory also plans to produce Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs).
The company is targeting production of two million ITNs per year.