Renaissance of Silk Industry in Georgia

Renaissance of Silk Industry in Georgia

The FINANCIAL -- The history of silk production in Georgia can be explored in State Silk Museum located in Tbilisi. Owing to the exhibition of different equipment and silk fabrics, it is possible to observe what the Georgian silk production once used to be.

For example, during the era of Soviet Union, Georgia assured all the stages of silk production. For that purpose, the suppliers of silkworm eggs, as well as silk production companies were built all over the territory employing about 5-6 thousand people. The villages were active suppliers of cocoons which were stored in silk collecting centres and, consecutively, given to the national factories. At that time, the industry of cocoon production reached its prosperity as the annual output of cocoons rose to 4000 units. However, prosperous era came to its end with a common disease of mulberry trees known as “dwarf leaves” disease. It spread from the western to the eastern Georgia infecting millions of trees: approximately, 15 million mulberry trees were burned. This disaster happened during the time of collapse of the Soviet Union that, in turn, amplified its impact and lead to silk production shutdown. 

This complete shutdown can be confirmed with statistical data. According to GeoStat, Georgia has not exported any silk production on a permanent basis since 2000. In 2000 the country exported a silk yarn not put up for retail sale (89.9 thousand USD) and a silk waste (16 thousand USD). These occasional exports also concern silk worm cocoons in 2005 and 2009 as well as woven fabrics in 2007 (0.3 thousand USD) and in 2015 (25.4 thousand USD).  Along with it, the statistical data show that Georgia has been importing woven fabrics of silk or of a silk waste uninterruptedly since 2000 with a significant decrease in import since 2013.

This is the story of silk production as we are told. The hovering question is whether this story has a continuation.

These days, the Georgian government has been actively engaged in setting a strategy for renaissance of the silk production. This discourse attracts attention to the once forgotten industry. The potential for silk production in Georgia and its perspectives became a driving force for creation of new agricultural corporations. And one of them is located in Kharagauli district. 

“One of the reasons pushing us to set this business was a simple calculation, - admits Mr. Murman Arjevanidze, Director of the corporation Silk From Kharagauli- we discovered that we can get twofold more in comparison to the prime price of silk production”.

Surely, it can turn out to be an interesting business while Georgia has good pre-conditions for it. For instance, there are about 4 thousand mulberry trees scattered across the country as well as the abandoned premises that served once as silk collecting centres and are currently in need of rehabilitation. It is also worth mentioning that the expertise of silk production accumulated throughout the years has not been lost completely: there are job market candidates who had a professional experience in this field.

Along with these pre-conditions, certain attractiveness can be revealed in the nature of silk production at its early stages. Irakli Gujabidze, Director of Serviculture Laboratory in the Agrarian State University, names several facts contributing to this attractive image: “You need about 50 m² to grow 50-70 kg of cocoons. Nowadays, you can sell 1 kg of cocoons for 15 GEL that is a good net income”. He also admits that these activities would be very helpful for the economic welfare of Georgian villagers. By getting associated with silk production, they would not only help agricultural corporations to extend their businesses but also increase their personal income in a short period of time: already within a month, silkworms create their cocoons. In this way, silk production can give a second life to the villages as well as to the territories deprived of fertile soils and developed industries.

However, awakening from the 20 year lethargy, silk industry production is in need of support from the Georgian government as well as from national and foreign investors. There are several reasons behind this need. First of all, the benefits covering expenses do not arrive in a short term for the entrepreneurs working in this field: it takes time and money to precede all the stages before obtaining silk cocoons fit for selling. There is also a need to plant new saplings of mulberry trees in order to increase the amount of production. Second, these corporations need to buy modern equipment for drying the cocoons and for production of “first” not-processed threads. Drying cocoons is a very important stage and its neglect can lead to a total loss of production. And, finally, the corporations search for the buyers of cocoons, mainly among foreign companies, to sell their production and, in this way, to maintain their activities. This need of foreign buyers becomes explicit due to the fact that, nowadays, there are no operating silk processing factories neither for thread nor fabric production. So, is it high time for Georgia to construct them?

Dwelling upon this question, Giorgi Jikia, Georgian businessman and General Director of SICPA SS Georgia, shares his vision: “I am not sure that silk fabric production can be profitable in Georgia. Our domestic market is quite small. As far as a possibility of export is concerned, it would be difficult to be competitive on the international market taking into consideration a presence of strong actors with a technical excellence such as China, France and Italy”. 

The Georgian businessman sees this perspective hidden in another stage of silk production. He names silk thread production, notably of raw threads, as a potentially beneficial initiative in this field. According to him, it could be an interesting deal to cooperate with foreign silk companies selling to them these types of threads.

Only time will tell in which direction the things will progress but the positive signs and trends can already be observed. Recently, various periodicals informed us that Jimsher Tchaidze, one of the founders of Askaneli Brothers, donated 100 000 saplings of mulberry trees to the Georgian government. Support to the sector comes also from the district municipalities as it was the case in Kharagauli district: it provided the Silk From Kharagauli Corporation with the premises free of rent payment. The Georgian entrepreneurs look forward to what the governmental strategy for silk renaissance will unveil in terms of opportunities.

It is important to add that transfer of practical knowledge and techniques in the field of silk production would also play a major role in renaissance of the silk industry. This concept is a cornerstone inspiring the director of State Silk Museum, Ms. Nino Kuprava, to organize different workshops letting people discover more about the silk industry and even test themselves as producers of handmade silk fabrics. According to Nino Kuprava, silk production cannot be perceived only as a tribute to the glorious past. 

The history has already proved the attractiveness and potential of the silk industry in Georgia. Once started, the story deserves to have continuation and the renaissance of the silk industry can be its noteworthy next chapter.