Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cambodian Silk

For centuries people in Cambodia have been creating and using exquisite silk. Incredibly beautiful, Cambodian silk is known for its quality, vibrancy and delicate feel – and the scarves, handbags, cushion covers, ties and table runners that are proudly displayed in the markets are just a small sample of what is available.

Despite a tumultuous history in Cambodia where the art of silk making almost died, we are now starting to see a revival of the traditional art and evidence of burgeoning industry - an industry which could bring big gains to people of Cambodia.

There are over 25,000 people involved in the silk sector, including weavers, producers, retailers and others. And that’s why silk has been identified as a key sector in Cambodia to generate income for poor and rural producers and contribute to poverty reduction.

Artisan’s Angkor, the silk farm and store I visited in Siem Reap, is a real success story for the industry. If others within the sector can emulate this sort of success, the future will certainly be looking brighter.

NZAID, UNDP and Swiss Secretariat of Economic Affairs, SECO have joined forces with the International Trade Centre to support the Cambodian Sector Wide Silk Project. Bringing together all elements of silk making in a bottom-up approach that includes farmers, weavers, designers, traders and the Cambodian government, this project will encourage the industry to work together improve performance and achieve better, more profitable outcomes for all.

The first step of the project has been setting up a strong foundation with the creation of a strategy. The focus of the strategy is three-fold and covers all aspects of producing silk.

Firstly, the project will increase the production of silk farming and yarn supply, including growing mulberry trees and rearing silk worms to produce the high quality golden silk yarn that is unique to Cambodia.

Secondly, the silk weavers themselves will be supported so they can supply quality silk in a timely manner. This means providing training in new weaving and dyeing techniques, improving working conditions and linking buyers with weavers.

And thirdly, developing markets and unique products will ensure the beautiful silk is sold for a fair price, both nationally and internationally, so everyone that’s involved can receive more profit.

So the strategy is in place. There is much to be done to realise the vision and work is underway. The enthusiasm of those involved in the sector is inspiring and evidence that a traditional art form can hold the key to alleviating poverty.

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