Silkworms farming is taking hold in Cuba

Gusanos de seda para artesanos de Cuba y sus ventas a cubanos y turistas

HAVANA, May 24  No matter how unusual or exotic it may seem, silkworm farming is taking hold in Cuba, with production destined for private artisans connected to tourism.At the Indio Hatuey experimental station, attached to the University of Matanzas, Cuban biochemist Dayron Martín directs the ArteSeda project.

The initiative integrates the process from start to finish: from raising the caterpillars to producing their favorite food, the mulberry, and then harvesting the silk, according to a report by the British agency Reuters.

Native to Asia and transplanted to Cuba, the worms spin a fine, shiny white fiber that is expected to be used by Cuban artisans to create products ranging from dresses, blouses, shirts and even cosmetics, the specialist said.

“It is an ancestral process that is more than 5 thousand years old,” explained Martin about the traditional Chinese practice, which arrived on the island in 2005 with the first litters of worms that were inserted into an appropriate habitat with abundant food at the Indio Hatuey station.

According to the expert, worms need very specific conditions and Cuba meets the requirements.

Among such conditions, the island offers suitable temperatures, trade winds, and a year-round growing season, as well as abundant food for worms.

The Cuban project, which began with funding from the European Union, local authorities and more recently the French government, aims to train Cuban artisans in the process and allow them to raise their worms from scratch, Reuters notes.

Artisans then use their silk to create homegrown products that they can sell to tourists and residents alike. This was confirmed by Dalgi Chaviano, owner of a small store in Havana that produces cosmetics, crafts, soaps, fabrics and prints.

Chaviano told the British agency that he recently received authorization from the Havana authorities to grow mulberry trees and silkworms, which will allow him to produce his raw material and use it in the making of his products.

Silk production in the world

Silkworms are the larvae of a moth (Bombyx mori) native to Asia. They weave a silk fiber cocoon that has been used for centuries as a source of commercial silk.

The Reuters report does not describe the process used in Cuba for the production of this in-demand product, in which artisans are trained based on the aforementioned project.

However, there are ancient techniques traditionally used in the world. Following these techniques, the production process begins with the cultivation of worms, whose eggs are carefully nourished until they hatch and become larvae.

Once hatched, silkworms feed on mulberry leaves. They consume them voraciously and grow quickly.

During this period, which lasts approximately a month, they molt several times. After the last molt, they begin to weave their cocoons.

Insects secrete a sticky liquid, called sericin, which hardens on contact with air, forming a protective cocoon.

The cocoon serves as a refuge for the worm and is the source of the silk fibers. Before the worms transform into moths, the cocoons are carefully harvested.

Silkworms farming is taking hold in Cuba

Silkworms in action. Photo: Infocampo / Archive.

To obtain long, continuous silk fibers, the cocoons are often boiled, which kills the silkworms inside, a management that has been denounced by environmental groups and animal rights defenders.

Once the cocoons are collected, the silk reeling process begins. The cocoons are soaked in hot water to soften the sericin and make it easier to unwind the fibers.

Fibers from several cocoons are carefully unwound and combined to form a single silk thread.  The fabric is created by interweaving threads on a loom, resulting in the production of various silk fabrics, such as silk satin, silk chiffon, and silk brocade.

Silk is highly prized for several properties, including its soft and smooth texture, natural shine, breathability, which helps regulate body temperature, and hypoallergenic power, making it less likely to cause allergic reactions compared to silk. synthetic fabrics.

According to data from the United Nations, the main silk producer in the world is China. It is followed by India and, from afar, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Iran, Thailand, and Vietnam continue the ranking.

In 2022, silk was the 95th product in the world in terms of monetary volume of marketing, with a total of close to two billion dollars.