Photo: Asif Mahmood
Lahore: Due to the inactivity of the timber farming sector in Punjab, around four thousand families, especially rural women involved in silk farming, honey production, medicinal plant cultivation, and mushroom farming, have become unemployed.
Bashiran Bibi, a 45-year-old resident of Changa Manga, and 50-year-old Sagheeran Bibi have been raising silk worms in their homes for the past two decades. They used to earn 40,000 to 50,000 rupees per season, but this year they were unable to obtain the required silk seeds and mulberry leaves, resulting in the death of the worms they were raising. The situation of several women in Changa Manga, like these, is similar.
Changa Manga is Pakistan’s largest artificial forest and is a significant source of employment for local people. Locals have been raising silk worms in their homes for many years, and creating cocoons. Besides Changa Manga, people in areas like Chichawatni, Mandi Bahauddin, Kamalia, Toba Tek Singh, Rajana, Faisalabad, and Sialkot also raised silk worms in their homes and were involved in cocoon production, all of whom are now unemployed.
The Punjab government had developed a three-year development project for the Directorate of Sericulture in the Forest Department in the financial year 2019-2020, for which funds of 136 million rupees were allocated by the finance department. The first year of the project achieved various goals at a cost of approximately 17.5 million rupees, including farmer training. However, in the second year, a dispute arose between the Forest Department and the Directorate of Sericulture, which has now rendered the project almost inactive.
Saeed Anwar, President of the Silk Farming & Trading Association, stated that the goal of the timber farming project was to provide employment to one hundred thousand rural families, especially women, in the first phase, and ten lakh families in the second phase, to enable them to be economically self-sufficient.
He explained that within a few months of the project, two thousand families were registered, but now the project has become almost inactive for about two and a half years. The project includes silk farming, honey production, medicinal plant cultivation, and mushroom farming. At present, all medicinal plants are being imported from Dubai and India.
Nida Zahra, Deputy Director of Sericulture, revealed that the Sericulture wing has not received funds from the government for the past two years. Monitoring Japanese mulberry trees and plants in various places such as Changa Manga has become difficult. The timber farming project approved to activate the Directorate of Sericulture has been closed down by the former Secretary of Forests and Wildlife Punjab. The issue of reviving the Sericulture Wing’s directorate remains in Lahore High Court, and nothing can be said about it until a decision is made by the court.
On the other hand, Malik Mushtaq Ahmad, Secretary of Forests and Wildlife Punjab, stated that at present, hybrid mulberry cultivation is being carried out on two thousand acres in Changa Manga and other districts in Punjab, where silk farming was already taking place, in the hopes that sericulture farmers, whether procuring silk seeds from private institutions or being provided them by the Timber Farming Directorate, will not face difficulty in raising worms.