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Worm turns for Ghanaian textiles.

The largest traditional Ghanaian Kente cloth in the world hangs in the United Nations building in New York, a gift from the Ghanaian Government to the world community. Kwame Hardi reports on why this tradition is taking on a new silken appearance.

The international fashion industry has finally woken up to the joys of Ghanaian Kente cloth. Boldly coloured `Ashanti' Kente and subtly shaded `Ewe' Kente are attracting European and American taste, in the form of clothes, ties, earrings, shoes and sandals, and with a burgeoning market, producers are looking for new ways to provide a silken product.

For despite the growing lucrative market, the Kente industry still suffers from the periodic interruption of its raw materials - imported cotton from Egypt and Indian rayon yarns.

But the Managing Director of the Kumasi based Wonoo Ventures Limited, Nana Asante Frempong, who has led the way in the new uses of Kente and promoting them on new markets, strongly feels there is scope for a change of tack in Ghanaian textiles - the creation of a silk industry to support Kente weaving.

Since 1981, there have been four positive studies on the potentials of sericulture in Ghana. And a newly formed Sericulture Promotion and Development Association is in collaboration with Intermediate Technology Consultants Limited of Rugby, UK, and Intermediate Technology Ghana, to produce the country's first silk.

Vice Chairman of the Sericulture Promotion and Development Association, Mr JK Thankson-Agbeblie, says Intermediate Technology Consultants of Britain have agreed to fund the project for the first three years with 98,870 [pounds sterling]. The money is to be spent on establishing central facilities for silk worm egg production, hatching and three facilities for rearing of silkworms.

Each facility will produce at a rate of 15,000 silkworms per month, located on mulberry plantations of 0.5 hectares with 5,000 mulberry trees. Already four varieties of mulberry are being grown in Ghana. The cultivation of the most approved variety, Morus Alba, is being encouraged by the Association. The leaves of the mulberry will be cut and fed to the silkworms. After a month, the silk worms produce cocoons which when unwound or reeled produce a filament of raw silk, sometimes an astonishing one kilometre in length.

Mr Martin Hardingham of Intermediate Technology Consultants, who has long experience in helping the silk industry in India and promoting it in Zimbabwe, will manage the Ghana project.

Indeed it is hoped that the success of the Zimbabwe experiment in silk production can be replicated in Ghana. "Indian silk worms are not only going to spin off Ghana's Kente industry, but will also introduce a viable agro-industry that can generate employment in rural areas," says Mr Thankson-Agbeblie. He bases his optimism on the Zimbabwe experiment where a hectare of mulberry plantation fed to silk worms produces 250kg of silk, fetching 5,500 [pounds sterling] in a year.

Ghana's pilot project will produce about 9kg of raw silk a month with a value of 200 [pounds sterling]. Waste silk of about 40kg per month can be further processed into spun silk.

Ghanaian sericulturalists are of the view that silk production has more advantages that other cash cropping activities including cocoa production. Mulberry - unlike cocoa - thrives under different environmental conditions including marginal land. Being labour intensive, it can provide employment for many people. Sericulture requires simple technology resulting in relatively low investment. And once a plantation is established, mulberry trees live up to a century. In addition to high returns, sericulture brings them in short cycles of between 2.5 to 3 months.

With silk the strongest yet softest and most luxurious natural continuous filament textile fibre in the world, and with a huge array of uses, from carpets, to cosmetics, to fly fishing, the nascent Ghanaian industry has a whole new world to explore.
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Title Annotation:Ghana's silk industry
Author:Hardi, Kwame
Publication:African Business
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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