In April this year, Rajshahi silk was given the Geographical Indication status, providing new livelihoods and opening up opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, in rural Bangladesh to become self-reliant.
DHAKA, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- Many centuries ago, silkworm cultivation and silk-making techniques from ancient China reached Bangladesh along the Silk Road, an ancient trade route.
For almost all its history, sericulture was confined to the Rajshahi region in the western part of Bangladesh. Today, based in Manikganj to the northwest of capital Dhaka, Aarong, a social enterprise backed by BRAC, a local NGO, has brought Rajshahi silk to the global marketplace.
BRAC was founded in 1972 by Fazle Hasan Abed as a small relief and rehabilitation project. In April this year Rajshahi silk was given Geographical Indication status, providing new livelihoods and opening up opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, in rural Bangladesh to become self-reliant.
Rina Akhter is one of the beneficiaries of Aarong's success in supplying fine silks to the high-end garment industry. A Manikganj local, Rina is a mulberry-leaf picker who has worked at Aarong's silkworm farm for about five years.
"I have three children - two daughters and a son. My husband and I also work together (here)," she told Xinhua, thanking Aarong for the opportunity. "We're doing well, by the grace of God. The cost of living is not much, so we lead a good life. "
Moshammad Anna Akhter weaves silk on traditional wooden hand loom. She can make a seven-meter sari in a day. "If I do my best work, and the fabric I make is good enough, I am paid more for my production. I get a good salary. In fact, I get the highest salary in this workshop. My family does very well with my income."
KNOWLEDGE AND KNOWHOW
Abdul Mannan has been working with BRAC for 30 years. BRAC started its silkworm cultivation in 1978. "The program began here in Manikganj and has gradually expanded," he said.
"BRAC now has 12 farms spread all over the country. We have a hand in the whole supply chain from raw leaves to stores. We grow mulberry bushes, rear the silkworms to the cocoon stage, then extract, spin, dye and weave the silk, eventually making high-quality saris, dresses and other garments, mostly for women. We sell many of our products through Aarong's own outlets."
Silkworm cultivation started in China, where the world's expertise still lies. "I know China is the most advanced silk producing country. There is a lot of research on silkworm cultivation in China. We are lucky enough to benefit from China's huge knowledge base and current research. Chinese knowhow and new technology are crucial to our results," Mannan said.
"I think that if we want to improve our farming program, then we have to follow China's lead. Those of us who work with silk in Bangladesh must visit China often to learn the latest techniques," he said.
FOR THE GOOD OF THE COMMUNITY
Aarong Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mohammad Ashraful Alam said, "The vision our founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed regarding the revival of silk industry in Bangladesh has guided us since 1976. We still adhere to that same vision today."
"BRAC is the only business in Bangladesh involved in the entire value chain of silk production. We sell through 22 Aarong brick-and-mortar shops around the country and through our own e-commerce platform. We ship to the USA, UK (Britain) and Australia."
"We have no plans to stop there. We plan to continue to champion Rajshahi silk and other local craft industries, expanding our horizon as a global brand. But our true, original mission as set by our founder is dedicated to the welfare and wellbeing of all our workers."