Last Updated on: 2nd February 2023, 11:06 am
On December 16, 2022, Uganda exported its first silk yarn brand samples for testing in the European market. This silk yarn has been branded Usilk by the Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI).
Speaking to the press that day, TRIDI’s Robson Aine who is the Director of Monitoring and Evaluation said: “Usilk is 100% Ugandan and our Ugandan silk brand.”
Aine also said, “it was our promise to Ugandans to start commercial production of silk by December 2022”. Usilk is the first product of TRIDI in its quest to effectively commercialize silk production in Uganda.
Going forward, on January 15, 2023, TRIDI’s Executive Director also doubling as the Sericulture Project Principal Investigator, Clet Wandui Masiga spoke to the press from their head office in Mukono.
“The (Usilk export) target was to meet the specifications for Grade 6A which is the best quality silk globally to begin commercial production. Only less than 1-3% of silk production globally meets this grade,” he said.
“Usilk did not make it to the higher grade. However, the silk engineers and investors and entrepreneurs from Europe where the test was done are coming to Uganda next month to visit the Uganda factory, so they can see cocoon quality, machine and production environment,” he continued.
This way they can provide suggestions to improve the quality to produce Grade 6A silk yarn.
Clet revealed that Uganda is now ready to begin commercial silk yarn production, stating that the results of our silk yarn that was sent to Europe for grade testing have been released and we are within the commercial grades.
“Our target was, however, Grade A. We did the research and we are convinced that our mulberry production is the best globally. Our research also demonstrates that the rearing conditions are also the best.”
TRIDI is also using the best or latest next-generation processing equipment and as such, they expected Grade 6A. “We decided that we shall build our capacity by training young engineers to produce the yarn and they have done it for the first time,” the project principal added.
“Am proud of this team of Ugandans and I congratulate them and request them to remain committed and focused. We are producing a product that has a market and we shall get revenue for our livelihoods and the socio-economic development of Uganda.”
What are Grade 6A and others?
Grade 6A is the best quality of silk globally and only 1-3% of the silk produced in the world meets this grade. Uganda silk yarn branded Usilk which is 100% Ugandan and is produced by TRIDI with funding from the government of Uganda.
The raw silk which Uganda is currently producing is divided into 11 grades, from 6A, 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A, A, B, C, D, E, to F.
Grade A silk is the best quality silk with long strands, with a luminous pearl white color that is free from impurities. It glistens in the light and a single thread of silk can stretch to a kilometer in length in its natural form. It is lightweight and when woven into a silk fabric it keeps the fabric breathable and completely smooth to the touch.
In grade A, Silk is classified into A- 6A, and the higher the number, the better the quality. Silk grade 6A accounts for approximately 3% and grade 5A accounts for approximately 7%. Uganda’s target was to be in the top 3% which must be achieved.
According to Clet, silk quality standards are ranked according to the uniformity of yarn, minimal impurities, minimal fluff, tensile strength, and elongation, noting that “our Usilk count/denier size was 25.2D” which was excellent considering the specifications used in the production was 19-33 denier.
“We had high cuts per kg of silk yarn and more impurities. When we received the results we immediately gathered our technical teams to do a quick evaluation.”
The capacity of staff and challenges
He said the staff he works with have just been trained and they are still perfecting their skills. The cocoons used had overstayed resulting in more cuts. The water used was both dirty and hard water.
The hardness of water affects essentially the surface characteristics of the raw silk color, luster softness, etc. Silk reeled in hard water poses difficulty in dyeing since a greater quantity of soap is to be used for degumming. Rainwater is not considered suitable for reeling.
Even in the factory itself, hard water creates a buildup that is difficult to clean weekly on the machines with detergent, and this leftover buildup affects the silk yarn. Some of the cocoons used were produced using mulberry that had not been managed well due to several management challenges experienced between June 2021- to December 2022. Cocoon harvest and storage were not excellent resulting in molds or stains.
“These stains affect the final result. The processing factory is not completed well and needs a facelift which will improve the production environment. At present, the walls are not plastered and there is a lot of dust that enters the production facility.”
“We are to begin working on these challenges to produce Usilk grade 6A, the world’s best. This is to ensure we get the best price. Additionally, once we target the best quality, it means that even if we do not get the target, all our silk will be sold as per other lower-to-quality grades from F, E, D, C, B, A, 2A, 3A, 4A, and 5A.”
The lowest price for the lowest grade of silk yarn is USD30 per kg. The best is USD 120 per kg. TRIDI’s target is the best grade 6A to earn USD120 per kg. “We should not have a problem getting the best. After all, we produce the best mulberry and best cocoons.”
The quality begins from the garden, Masiga said, adding that to get the best quality brand, the formula begins from the garden followed by the best breeds of the silkworm, then best rearing conditions, cocoon handling, and processing.
“Our partners, the Chinese engineers, have returned to China after training us in basic production skills. We shall continue to enhance our skills tailored based on the market specifications. Next month we shall have European silk entrepreneurs and engineers. They are coming from where the test was done, so they can see cocoon quality, machine, and production environment. This way they can provide suggestions to improve the quality to produce Grade 6A silk yarn.”
Once we perfect the grade 6A production skills, the current 2300 mulberry acreage shall produce approximately 100 metric tons of silk yarn which if we maintain Grade 6A we shall earn USD12,000,000 (ugx43.2B) annually. If, however, we produce an average grade we should be able to USD 5,000,000 (UGX18B) annually. At the current acreage, the project will directly employ 3000 people.
The minimum wage bill of these 3000 people shall be UGX10.8B. The taxes to the Uganda government shall be approx. UGX2B annually. A kg of yarn produces 10 meters of silk cloth/fabric. The price for silk fabric ranges from USD10 – 20 per meter depending on grade. Silk is known as the queen of fabric and the most expensive.
What more is TRIDI saying? The Institute’s Executive said silk’s absorbency makes it comfortable to wear in warm weather and while active. Its low conductivity keeps warm air close to the skin during cold weather.
It is often used for clothing such as shirts, ties, blouses, formal dresses, high-fashion clothes, lining, lingerie, pajamas, robes, dress suits, sun dresses, and traditional Asian clothing. Silk is also excellent for insect-proof clothing, protecting the wearer from mosquitoes and horseflies.
The silk yarn we are producing is also useful in furniture, particularly in upholstery, wall coverings, window treatments, rugs, bedding, and wall hangings. In industry, silk has many applications such as in parachutes, bicycle tires, comforter fillings, and artillery gunpowder bags.
“We are very proud of these results and we have produced this within the target timeframe. This is a result of Financial Support from the President of the Republic of Uganda, H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, to Scientists through the Innovation Fund. It is the first project of the 17 innovation fund projects funded in the financial year 2017/2018 to produce a commercial product.”
“We are grateful to the Parliament of Uganda that has continued to appropriate funds to this project and the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development for releasing the funds. We are also grateful to the relevant government of Uganda Ministries and agencies that have ensured the released funds are transferred to TRIDI and are used for the intended purposes.”