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Sericulture and traditional production of silk for weaving

Azerbaijani silk industry has its roots since ancient times. The industry has gained worldwide appreciation since the 5th century. From the 12th century, Azerbaijani silk was exported to European and Asian countries through the Great Silk Road.                                 

According to the researchers, the Italian traveler Contarini, who visited the city of Shamakhi in the 70s of the 11th century, wrote that high-quality silk fabrics were produced in this city. In those times, silk was transported from Shamakhi to Russia, Iraq, Syria and other countries.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Shirvan was able to maintain its superiority in the Middle East due to silk production. A large part of Shirvan silk was sent to many countries in Asia and Europe. In addition, most of the crop was used to support silk weaving in the country. German traveler Adam O’leary wrote that in the 1630s, Azerbaijan harvested from 10 to 20 thousand bales of raw silk every year, of which Shirvan gave 3,000 and Karabakh – 2,000 bales.     

Currently, the major silk producing countries in the world are China, India, Uzbekistan, Brazil and Japan.  China leads at 146,000 metric tons of silk produced annually. Second is India at 28,708 metric tons in annual silk production. Other countries such as Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil, North Korea, Iran, Bangladesh, Turkey, Japan, Bulgaria, Madagascar, Indonesia, Philippines, Tunisia, Egypt, South Korea, Syria also contribute to global silk production.  

The major silk consumers of the world are; USA, Italy, Japan, India, France, China, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, UAE, Korea, Viet Nam, etc. Even though silk has a small percentage of the global textile market - less than 0.2% (the precise global value is difficult to assess, since reliable data on finished silk products is lacking in most importing countries) - its production base is spread over 60 countries in the world.  

The turning point in the development of silkworm breeding in Azerbaijan dates back to the early70s of the last century.  On the initiative of Heydar Aliyev, who headed Azerbaijan at that time, the Council of Ministers adopted a resolution on March 3, 1971, "On Measures for Further Development of silkworm farming in the Republic of Azerbaijan". This decision gave a powerful impetus to the development of silkworm breeding and silkworm farming, expanding its material and technical base, industrial potential, and, as a result, the country increased its barley supply by 36.1 percent. Planting of many mulberry seedlings on vacant lands belonging to collective farms and state farms, roadsides, cities and towns significantly strengthened the fodder base of cocooning. At the same time, much attention was paid to scientific research in this field.      

During the Soviet times, the silk industry in Azerbaijan formed a wide network. It included the Research Institute of Sericulture, Gakh and Ganja silkworm breeding stations, 7 cocoon seed plants, up to 30 regional cocoon drying plants, about 80 stations of cocoon supply and primary processing, 4 greenhouses, 31 sericulture offices, Ordubad cocoon factory, Karabakh and Sheki silk factories as well.       

Considering that there is a great potential for the development of sericulture in Azerbaijan, according to the decree of President Ilham Aliyev, the Ministry of Agriculture has started implementing relevant measures in the direction of creating a modern infrastructure of silk farming in the republic since 2016.The decrees of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan "On state support for the development of sericulture in the Republic of Azerbaijan" dated September 15, 2016 and "On additional measures related to the strengthening of state support for the development of sericulture and hazelnut cultivation" dated November 16, 2016 contributed to the effective use of the potential opportunities of this field, increasing the employment and further improving of the social well-being of the population. 

Also, in accordance with the orders of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan "On additional measures related to the improvement of the material and technical basis of silk production in the Republic of Azerbaijan " dated May 19, 2017 and “On measures related to the continuation of state support for the development of sericulture in the Republic of Azerbaijan” dated October 6, 2017, funds were allocated for the purpose of restoring of the Gakh silkworm breeding station, creating additional manufacturing fields and supplying them with modern equipment, as well as supplying mulberry seedlings and cocoon seeds and providing the manufacturers with them free of charge. Since 2001, a simplified tax system was introduced to support the activities of craftspeople. 

In order to strengthen the state support for the development of cocoon and silk production, which have ancient traditions in Azerbaijan, increase the export potential, generate employment in rural areas, and implement other planned works on the basis of a single program, "State Program on the development of cocoon and silk production in the Republic of Azerbaijan for the period 2018-2025" was approved on November 27, 2017.     

In accordance with the State Program, it is envisaged to increase the production volume of wet cocoons to 6,000 tons annually in Azerbaijan by 2025. The creation of an association of cocoon manufacturers in Azerbaijan is also included in the Action Plan for the implementation of the program. The Ministries of Agriculture and Economy should complete this work in 2018-2019.    

The Action Plan includes supporting the implementation of the comprehensive approach in the field of cocoon and silk production, creating new productive silkworm breeds and hybrids, expanding scientific research works in the direction of organizing primary seed production, and supporting the creation of seed (grain) plants that will provide economic subjects engaged in cocoon with industrial mulberry silkworm seeds. Also, cocoon drying stations will be established for the primary processing of harvested cocoon, including cocoon reception and processing centers in Agjabadi, Balakan, Barda, Goychay, Tovuz, Zagatala and Zardab districts, and measures will be taken to attract local and foreign investments in cocoon production and processing.

The implementation of the State Program will, in general, further strengthen the work carried out in the direction of the comprehensive development of sericulture and its sub-sectors in the country.

Four cultural elements of Azerbaijan have been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during the 17th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Moroccan capital Rabat between November 28 and December 3.  The element "Sericulture and traditional production of silk for weaving" nominated jointly by Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan was included in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The aforementioned nomination document was submitted in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan to UNESCO and the National Commission of the Republic of Azerbaijan for UNESCO, as well as the proper institutions of Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. 

The decision on the nomination file, which received positive feedback on all criteria from UNESCO Evaluation Body, was announced on December 1.