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Silk hopes rest on new board

A worker transfers silk yarn to spindles
A worker transfers silk yarn to spindles at a silk plantation in Siem Reap province last year. The silk industry has hit its lowest production rate of golden silk since the end of the Khmer Rouge era. Scott Howes

Silk hopes rest on new board

The long-awaited National Silk Board (NSB) – an industry body that aims to tighten regulations and boost investor confidence in Cambodia’s silk industry – will be established by the middle of next year, industry representatives said yesterday.

Speaking at a workshop aimed at building networks between raw silk producers and silk product makers, Pheanuroth Sisowath, adviser to the planned National Silk Board, said both investment and export opportunities would increase once a body was established to help coordinate the industry’s efforts.

“The sector is considered significant to economic growth; we have a big opportunity for this industry. And I believe once the NSB is established, there will be a lot of funding to boost the sector,” he said.
The formation of the new board is likely to occur early to mid-2015, Sisowath added.

“Policies related to the formation of NSB have been done, the next step is a submission to Council Ministers to review, then to the prime minister to sign off,” he said.

The NSB was first floated in June last year, by the former minister of commerce, Cham Prasidh, who anticipated it would be up and running soon after the July 2013 general election. But the formation of the board has been delayed as ministries involved in establishing the representative body failed to coordinate their efforts, a Ministry of Commerce spokesman said in June.

For industry representatives, the new body could not come soon enough, as the sector has declined to its lowest point in years.

“The purpose is to boost export. But what can we export when the production is less than one tonne?” questioned Men Sinoeun, executive director of Artisan Angkor Cambodia, an organisation that helps support Cambodian handmade products.

Production of golden silk, which is sourced from a silkworm only raised in Cambodia, has decreased from 10 tonnes per year in 2008 to less than 1 tonne per year today, according to Sinoeun.
“But the demand stands at around 300 tonnes per year,” he said.

A price increase of golden silk from $60 per kilogram five years ago to $90 per kilogram today, has not provided producers with an incentive to remain in the industry, according to Mom Sothoeuth, a silk producer from Banteay Meanchey province.

“We spend a lot time taking care of the silkworms until they produce silk and weave it into final products only to get a price that is not very rewarding,” she said.

Much of the mulberry plantations used for raising silkworms in her district have been replaced over time by cassava as producers are unable to sustain their livelihoods on golden silk, Sothoeuth added.

“So far, the remaining producers are struggling to keep golden silk alive. With the National Silk Board, I hope to see the market being expanded result in a rising price,” she said.

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