Cambodia’s natural silk industry is on the verge of extinction due to the widespread use of pesticides that have severely damaged the health of silkworms, leading producers to rely on imported synthetic fibers to meet demand, experts say.
Men Sinoeun, executive director of the Artisan’s Association of Cambodia, said global demand for the luxury fiber in recent years has remained at between 300 and 400 tons, while the production of natural silk in Cambodia has continued to fall, dropping to only one ton a year.
Speaking on the sidelines of a trade expo in Phnom Penh on Monday, he said the problem lies with the extensive use of chemicals on farms.
“The production of golden silk is very little because our villages use chemicals on their rice crops and in agriculture, which badly affects the silkworms [resulting] in people changing from this work to things like growing cassava or migrating to other countries like Thailand,” Mr. Sinoeun said.
“More importantly, no one can cure the health problems of the silkworms,” he added. “We are very worried about losing our Khmer identity.”
Meas Sorphorn, deputy director of the National Silk Center, which provides training on silkworm breeding in Siem Reap province, said silkworms living in polluted environments produce poor quality silk, and less of it.
“When farmers use pesticides in their fields, the pesticide smell is carried in the wind to silkworm dwellings, making them less and less healthy,” he said Tuesday on the sidelines of a workshop on the silk sector in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Sorphorn said an unhealthy silkworm produces up to 100 meters of thread in its lifetime of about 20 to 24 days while a healthy one can yield five times that.
Sisowath Pheanuroth, an adviser to the International Trade Center who attended Tuesday’s workshop, said the organization was working with the Commerce Ministry to establish a national silk board by early next year to create policies to revive local production.