Sericulture as a Business

Sericulture as a Business


(c) National Sericulture station, Thika, Kenya

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Introduction to Sericulture

What is Sericulture 

Sericulture is the practice of rearing silkworms for production of raw silk. The entire practice, from soil to silk, can be broadly classified into four interdependent agro-industrial activities: 

  1.  Mulberry farming for leaf production
  2. Silkworm rearing and cocoon production
  3. Production of raw silk (cocoon post harvest technology)
  4. Weaving of silk fabric 

What is Silk? 

Silk is a unique protein fiber produced from the interface of plant and animal. It was discovered in China 4000 years ago and up-to-date silk has continued to reign supreme over other textile fibers both the natural (cotton, wool, jute) and man-made fibers (rayon, nylon, polyester, viscose, etc). It is due to its exclusive beauty that silk is acclaimed as the Queen of Textiles

Types of Silk 

There are two broad classifications of silk, wild silk and domesticated silk. Under 'domesticated silk' we have mulberry silk and non-mulberry silk. 

Global Silk Perspective 

Globally, over 30 countries produce silk, 16 of which are in the Asian continent, accounting for about 90% of the total world silk production. India is the second largest producer of raw silk after China and is also the biggest consumer of silk. 

Silk production in temperate countries like Japan, South Korea, USSR, etc is declining steadily, not only because of the high cost of labour and heavy industrialization in these countries, but also due to climatic restrictions which allows only 2 crops per year. Kenya has a distinct advantage of practicing sericulture all through the year, yielding a stream of about 3-4 cocoon crops as a result of its tropical climate.

Silk Production in Kenya

Sericulture in Kenya 

The potential of sericulture in Kenya is multi-fold, and is yet to be fully tapped. Sericulture viability in Kenya was established in 1972, when sericulture was introduced into the country through collaboration of the Goverment of Kenya (GOK) and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). 

Sericulture potential in Kenya is associated with:

  • Ideal climatic conditions for mulberry cultivation and silkworm rearing
  • Silkworms can be reared in simple structures and equipment
  • Availability of cheap labour
  • Good cocoon quality with average filament length of 1200 meters
  • No major cocoon pest

Areas where sericulture is practiced in Kenya 

Nyanza Province:Bondo, Rachuonyo, Homa-Bay
Western Province:Busia, Budalangi, Kakamega, Emuhaya, Ikolomani
Rift Valley:Rongai, Wareng, Naivasha, Laikipia East and Central, Nakuru, Kajiado
Central Province:Kikuyu, Lari, Kiambu, Ruiru, Murranga South and East, Kirinyaga, Nyeri East
Eastern Province:Imenti South, Machakos
Coast Province:Kwale, Malindi, Tana River, Taita Traveta
Nairobi Province:Kasarani, Dagoretti

The current acreage under mulberry stands at 250 acres, spread over the above mentioned areas. More farmers have continued to engage themselves in sericulture either in groups or individually. The tree performs well and the expected cocoon yield is 640kgs/acre/year. 

Table 1. Production Data Table

YearMulberry (Metric tons)Cocoons (Kg)Raw silk (Kg)Silk floss(Kg)


Silk Markets in Kenya

All silk produced in Kenya is consumed locally, and there is a bigger export market. Major consumers are the cottage industries, which also use cotton and wool. Most of the weavers use had looms to weave very beautiful fabrics, which are purchased locally by tourists and also sold abroad. A survey carried out showed that the finer silk fibre found in the shops is imported. This is an indication that there is market for silk fabrics and silk fibre in Kenya. Below is a list of silk market outlets in Kenya: 

1. National Sericulture Station, Thika
2. International Centre for Insect Physiology and Entomology (I.C.I.P.E)
3. Kakamega Forest Silk Market Centre, in Kakamega
4. Pendeza Weaving, in Kisumu
5. Spin Weave, in Nairobi
6. Gramwa, in Kiambu
7. Mwingi Silk Market Place, in Mwingi
8. Arabuko Sokoke Silk Market Place, in Malindi
9. Molo Weavers, in Elburgon
10. Rivatex, in Eldoret (Prospective large scale buyer)
11. Kimahuri youth group in Nyeri county
12. Sarah Jane in Nairobi

There are many other cottage weavers that we might not be aware of that are interested in buying silk. Farmers are encouraged to survey around their areas for upcoming and existing weavers.

How to Start Up Sericulture

Basic Requirements 

1. Land: This is the most important requirement for from it food for silkworms will be harvested.
2. Planting material: It is important to select varieties that bear many leaves, at least 30m tons per acre (good variety of Mulberry cuttings).
3. Silkworm rearing house: Must be one that can retain basic requirement of hygienic conditions.
4. Rearing equipment: Appropriate and approved rearing equipment such as rearing beds, mountages, sprayer pump, chopping boards etc are required.
5. Silkworm eggs: Must be obtained from approved silkworm egg breeders.
6. Training: A person intending to rear silkworms must have basic training of at least two weeks so as to master rearing techniques.
7. Farm equipment: Jembes, for digging and weeding, secateurs for pruning and harvesting of leaves, pruning saws for cutting larger shoots, fencing materials to prevent animal pests. 

Link to Mulberry Silkworm 
Link to Mulberry Trees

Sericulture Economics for One Acre

Cocoon production economics

(Investment costs spread over 20 years production/accounting period)

YieldPrice/KgGross IncomeProduction CostYearly Profit
YEAR 1    
160 kg35056,00055,295705
YEAR 2    
320 kg350112,00082,89529,105
YEAR 3 onwards    
640 kg350224,000131,29592,705


Initial Investment Overview 

ItemPrice Ksh
Rearing house208,769
Mulberry establishment96,000
16 beds22,784
Partitions and frames44,120
Spraying pump and protective gear10,000
Variable rearing costs Year 132,400
Total Year 1414,073


Rearing House Building Costs

Cost of mulberry establishment and rearing house is spread over a period of 20 years.
Cost of materials and labour from region to region, so below cost estimate could easily differ in your area.

7m x 5m house is adequate for 2 cases rearing. 

 QuantityUnit Price KShTotal Cost Estimation
Timber808 ft4536,360
Off cuts1,36034,080
Roofing nails5kg2801,400
Ordinary nails 4"30 kg1805,400
Iron sheets64 pcs70044,800
Sand2 lorrys (7 ton)10,00020,000
Cement5 bags8004,000
Coffee tray mesh1 roll4,0004,000
Polythene sheet15m1502,250
Labour (skilled)30 mds70021,000
Unskilled labour30 mds40012,000
Hard core2 lorry (7 ton)2,0004,000
Miscellaneous10% 18,979
Initial Investment - house  208,769
House cost spread over 20 yearsPer Year 10,438



To save on space, rearing beds can be stacked (tier rearing beds).


    Cost Per Year
Timber (6x1)20ft25500 
Ply wood1550550 
Assorted nails1/2 kg9090 
Labour (skilled for one bed)1100100 
Sub-Total  1,424 
Total16 beds 22,784 
Spread over 20 years   1,200
Partitions (Mountages)25615038,400 
Total  44,120 
Spread over 10 years   4,412



Mulberry Establishment Costs

Cost of mulberry establishment and rearing house is spread over a period of 20 years.
Manure: Manure and fertiliser should be added to the mulberry crop at least twice a year. Waste from bed clearning can be composted into manure.


YEAR 1   
Land preparation20 MD2004,000
Digging holes4,000 holes1040,000
Manure8 tons (1 lorry)10,00010,000
Manure application10 MD2002,000
Fertilizer DAP/NPK8 bags2,50020,000
Sapplings4,000 sapplings312,000
Planting labour20 MD2004,000
Pruning and training20 MD2004,000
Total  96,000
Cost spread over 20 yearsPer Year 4,800


Mulberry Growing 

Variable costs per year   
Weeding 4 times20 MD20016,000
Fertilizer CAN8 bags2,00016,000
Manure8 tons (1 lorry)10,00010,000
Application labour5MD2001,000
Prunning 4 times10 MD2008,000
Total  51,000



Silkworm Rearing Costs 

Fixed Costs   
Spraying pump15,0005,000
Protective gear15,0005,000
Total  10,000
Cost spread over 5 years  2,000
Variable Costs   
Silkworm eggs NB: 1 case is 20,000 silkworms8 cases5004,000
Disinfectant5 litres160800
Leaf harvesting & rearing labour (4 rearings)21 MD20016,800
Harvesting of cocoons and deflossing 4 times12 MD2009,600
Gumboots1 pair1,0001,000
Thermometre and Hydrometer  200
Fixed cost spread over rearing years  22,895
Total  55,295
YEAR 2   
Silkworm eggs16 cases5008,000
Disinfectant5 litres160800
Leaf harvesting & rearing labour154MD20030,800
Harvesting of cocoons and deflossing 4 times96MD20019,200
Gumboots  1,000
Thermometre and Hydrometer  200
Fixed cost spread over rearing years  22,895
Total  82,895
YEAR 3   
Silkworm eggs32 cases50016,000
Disinfectant5 litres160800
Leaf harvesting & rearing labour308MD20061,600
Harvesting cocoons & deflossing144MD20028,800
Gumboots  1,000
Thermometer  200
Fixed cost  22,895
Total  131,295


Information Source Links

  • National Sericulture Station (2008). Manual guide to Sericulture practices in Kenya.
  • Dr. Manjeet S. Jolly (1987). Appropriate Sericulture Techniques.
  • Dr. K. Kawakami (JICA) and Dr. H. Yanagawa (JICA) (2993). Illustrated Handbook on Silkworm Disease Control Technology.
  • FAO Bulletins (1987) Manuals on Sericulture.
  • Dr. M. N. Narasimhanna (1988) Manual on Sericulture Egg Production.
  • FAO Bulletin (1991) Silkworm diseases.
  • Jica. Third country training Programme (2010) Bivoltine Sericulture Technology.
  • Central Silk Board (2003) Seri Business Manual: Users Guide.

Authors Contact Addresses

Last updated on:
Wed, 10/02/2019 - 08:49