V1 mulberry

V1 mulberry
Kuppam, AP, 2010

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

James Anderson of Madras - 3

Anderson versus the East India Company

Anderson's relationship with the Governor and the Board of Revenue who represented the Company's interests in Madras, and no doubt their own too, was a significant part of the problems he encountered. Their priorities were different. The Company was concerned first with raising revenue in the form of rents and taxes. If there was a need for investment it had to be in enterprises which would clearly yield a profit to the Company, and in the shortest possible time. Anderson, on the other hand, saw the plight of the people, both as a result of the recent disasters and from a long-term lack of circumstances such as to encourage development. He noted particularly the miserable condition of the lower classes and those who would later be identified as 'untouchables'.

He saw an important part of their problems as a shortage of demand for labour over a large part of the year. Encouraging economic activity was therefore his priority, and he wanted to achieve it by making new crops and new enterprises available and by helping people to obtain the resources, land in particular, which they would make productive.
He did his best to persuade the Company first that putting money into sericultural development would be profitable for it. In doing so he certainly exaggerated the speed with which profit could possibly be achieved: he had perhaps to do so in order to interest the Company at all. But it is also clear with hindsight that, as a pioneer, there was no way he could know either the hazards awaiting him or the timescale appropriate to such a major enterprise. He was probably not the first and certainly not the last would-be promoter of development to find himself in such a predicament.

It was over the second part of his policy, getting private people into sericulture, that the major clash came. There were two routes he proposed taking. One was to lure ordinary people into sericulture by example and incentive. The example was to be provided by more or less official European plantations which could demonstrate rearing and even reeling. He encouraged them particularly through
his extensive correspondence and its immediate publication in a succession of small books. The incentives came later when trying to boost the uptake amongst Indians by providing mulberry cuttings, silkworm eggs and necessary equipment, and guaranteeing to buy villagers' output, both of mulberry leaves and cocoons.

But it was the second route which caused most trouble. This was the provision of land for large-scale sericultural enterprises, either for Europeans, though Company policy at the time was in general against putting land into European hands, or for wealthy Indians. In Anderson's eyes the country was empty; there were huge amounts of land that had been cultivated
before the 1780 war but that had then dropped out of cultivation, and in addition there was waste land which had never apparently been used at all. He thought - and said repeatedly in a barrage of increasingly heated letters to the Governor and the Board - that surely, when the future prosperity of the country was at stake, land could be found and provided on terms which would encourage people to take it up and get on with planting the extensive areas of mulberry which would be needed.

The Company, however, was concerned - as always - with revenue, and also with the tangle of existing rights and claims to land. No clear policy had yet been arrived at for sorting out a system of landholding and revenue such as would later be achieved with 'permanent settlements'. There was as yet little understanding of principles and even less of surveys on the ground. The Company agreed with Anderson that the land had to be brought back into cultivation, but it was also worried about the practical difficulties of doing this. A worry was that incentives to take up new land would simply encourage people to abandon their existing lands for new allocsations on which they would have to pay less. There would be a net loss of revenue to government with no net gain in the amount of land farmed. With so much unresolved, there were long delays in dealing with the early applications submitted, and the terms that were finally offered were not encouraging.

Anderson raged at the officials, portraying them in his numerous letters as bureaucratic nigglers and wasters who did not have the interests of the country at heart. Since he had developed powerful backing from the Directors of the Company in London, they put up with this patiently - in contrast to an earlier occasion when he had been told bluntly to mind his own business and stick to his medical responsibilities. They even did their best to oblige him. At the same time however, having ceased to reply to his letters over several months, the Board of Revenue wrote
to the Governor complaining of his behaviour. They took the opportunity at the same time to express serious doubts about his sericultural schemes in general. The Governor replied with some sympathy: 'we hope the Doctor will, for the sake of the object he professes to promote, adopt a more conciliating and respectful conduct towards you in future'. The correspondence was copied to Anderson, who promptly responded, on 22 February 1794, that he had therefore to 'decline any further interference'; he would, that is to say, pull out of the enterprise, including, as it soon turned out, the supervision of the farm at Vellout that Parkison was managing.

After a delay of a few months however, he could not keep away altogether from sericulture. He continued to rear worms in Madras for some time, but the impetus behind official involvement with sericultural promotion that he had provided was at an end. It took a little time for the Company's projects to be liquidated but, by the time of the last Mysore War in 1799 which put an end to Tipu's sericultural initiatives, the Company had also abandoned sericultural development.

In the event, neither in the Company's territory nor in Mysore was this the end of sericulture. It survived surprisingly in a few remote spots, but evidence now emerging suggests that there were two more major sources of continuity. From an early stage Anderson had been interested in encouraging Indian princes to concern themselves with sericulture. The Nawab of Arcot, the major Indian ruler in the region, himself always
had perhaps too many more urgent concerns; at any rate he did not pursue it. Two of his sons who held court at Trichinopoly were, however, interested and so, more importantly, was his brother, Abdul Wahab Khan, at Chittoor. He established a plantation and sent people to learn reeling in Madras. In Chittoor, as today, it was possible to breed much more securely; on the coast it turned out to be increasingly difficult even to maintain silkworm stock through the monsoon season. It was largely owing to eggs from Chittoor that it was possible to revive rearing on the coast after disastrous attempts at it in both 1795 and 1796. When the Company closed the Vellout farm it was to Chittoor that some of the staff went for work. No evidence has yet emerged for events there over the next generation, but it is tempting at least to suspect here some connection with the presence there, in the early 1840s, of a substantial sericultural establishment run by a remarkable Christian missionary, Anthony Norris Groves, 'Father of Faith Missions'. This was briefly to play a significant part in the re-establishment of sericulture in the South.

The other tempting focus of interest is the Baramahal, the area ceded by Mysore to the Company in 1792 which is now mostly Dharmapuri and Salem Districts of Tamil Nadu. This was new territory and the Company's own. Capt. Alexander Read, with the assistance of Thomas Munro and others, was sent to take charge of it. Their first responsibility was to work out how revenue was to be raised from its land; it was here indeed that the ryotwari system of land revenue subsequently applied across large areas of India was first worked out. But they were also, in conjunction with this, concerned, like Anderson, with the economic development of the country. They investigated crops which might be profitably grown and transported, and amongst these was silk. Another assistant, Eyre W. Lyte, a former planter in the West Indies, was responsible for this and he had the assistance of Mohamed Arif, the Bengali who had set up Anderson's filature in Madras and had worked with him for five years. In 1795/6, again with direct support from Anderson, they established a 54-acre plantation and started rearing and reeling at Tirupattur, today in the south of Vellore District. This was an enterprise opening up inland at just the time when, on the coast, the decision to close down was being taken. As at Chittoor, there is then an unfortunate gap in the record which waits to be filled, but it is at least suggestive that it was not too far away, in Denkanikota of Dharmipuri District where sericulture was reported in the 1830s as already established. Whether this was a relic either of Tipu's Mysore schemes or Anderson's from Madras remains to be established.


Despite all the best efforts and ingenuity of both
Anderson and Parkison, the Company abandoned its silk projects and closed their plantation in September 1798. But even if, contrary to all Anderson's optimism, silk could not to be produced on the Coromandel Coast of Madras, it was here as well as in Mysore that practical and financial issues of sericultural development in the South were experimented with, struggled over and conclusive results achieved.

Anderson died in Madras in 1809. Doubtless he was disappointed in the failure of the Company's schemes but perhaps he died with the knowledge of Indian sericultural enterprise continuing. He wrote to Parkison in 1796, of new initiatives, that there would be 'time enough after the management of the worms is in the hands of the country people'. His many successors in sericultural development have indeed taken him up on this.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Bangalore Silk Farm

Part 2
Development and the Salvation Army

In January 1910 the Tata Silk Farm was handed over by Jamsetji’s son, Dorabji, to the Salvation Army and a new era was to begin. The interest of the government had been in improving the industry at its grass roots, but for that purpose the Farm was so far felt to have had little success, perhaps 'owing to the conservatism of the raiyats' as the Government of Mysore, Administration Report 1910/11 politely put it. Nevertheless, it was agreed to continue the original land grant and the Rs 3,000 annual subsidy for another three years.

The Salvation Army had grown out of a mission to the poor started in Victorian London by a Methodist evangelist, William Booth in 1865. This was reorganised in 1878 into a ranked and uniformed ‘army’ by Booth and his wife, Catherine. It was in effect a church for the poor and those rejected by respectable Christianity of the time, an ‘army’ organised to support ‘down and outs’, feed and house them, save them from alcohol and immorality, and lead them to a Christian way of life as the organisation understood it. Booth was its first ‘General’, its ministers and leaders were ‘Officers’, and other members were its ‘Soldiers’. All ranks were open to women as well as to men. As Booth described it: ‘The three “S’s” best expressed the way in which the Army administered to the “down and outs”: first, soup; second, soap; and finally, salvation’.

The movement spread quickly, to Scotland, Australia, the United States, France and, in 1882, to India, as well as Canada, Sweden and Switzerland. Many other countries were to follow. The Indian branch was started by an ICS officer himself born in India but with the grand Anglo-French name of Frederick St George de Latour Tucker, of the Indian Civil Service. He had joined the Salvation Army as a Major, starting its work in Bombay. As well as evangelism, it set up social agencies of various kinds: for the alleviation of the effects of famine, orphanages, schools, cottage industries and settlements for the Depressed Classes, later Dalits. Medical work began in 1893. The movement was interested in supporting the poor in many societies by giving them employment in paying enterprises which would, together with support from charitable and government grants, finance the extensive operation as a whole. It was such an organisation – part mission, part business – that was asked to take over the Tata Silk Farm.

They made a bold beginning and expanded their activities fast and widely. Already in 1912 Commissioner Tucker published a booklet entitled Experiments by the Salvation Army with French, Italian, Mysore and Erie Silk Worms in India and Ceylon, 1910-1911. The Salvation Army management of the Silk Farm had expanded its mulberry plantation, erected new buildings, doubled the size of the original filature and was also reeling in Ramanagaram. They had trained seven of their ‘European Officers’ and students and villagers from around southern India and Bombay in sericulture and allied activities, and they distributed silkworm eggs and mulberry cuttings to places in western and central India which were also at the time becoming again interested in the potential of silk production. They had manufactured ‘a cheap and convenient reeling machine for cottage use’, and the Japanese system of reeling and re-reeling was also the subject of their training. In 1912 it was reported that
visitors from various part of India have called, and advice has been sought by numerous correspondents. Already the Tata Silk Farm has given birth to three other institutions of a similar character under our auspices in Ceylon, the United Provinces and the Punjab.
The Farm was awarded medals at exhibitions - gold in Bangalore and silver in Madras – for ‘its exhibit of the entire process from the silkworm egg to the woven article’. In all they claimed 10 gold medals, 8 silver and 5 bronze, with numerous certificates. A bale of its silk was shown at the London Silk Exhibition of 1912, where it was said to have ‘attracted great attention from the visitors, who included Their Majesties the King and Queen and other members of the Royal Family.’ (Tucker 1912; Playne 1914/5; Lala 2004: 55-57).

There is no doubt that they made an energetic start and ensured that ‘Tata Silk Farm’ would retain a lasting presence in Bangalore, if only as a place name the origins of which would be revealed with generous hyperbole at intervals over the years. They provided livelihoods and opportunities for the poor, neglected and often scorned in India and elsewhere. The original connection of Jamsetji Tata with the silk industry is also certainly of interest, one of the great and philanthropic names who have been associated with it since its ancient origins in China. Lala (2004: 57) writes : ‘In India of today, it is little known that the flourishing silk industry of south India especially was revived by the same man as was to give it iron and steel and hydro-electric power’. But whether either Tata or the Salvation Army discovered a viable way in which the industry could be developed and the poor could be simultaneously advantaged is much more doubtful and the issues that the connection involves are complex.

The Farm’s subsequent operation and its significance for the silk industry would be critically – indeed hostilely – assessed in a major report for the Indian industry as a whole by Professor H. Maxwell-Lefroy, entomologist and Imperial Silk Specialist (1916: 104-09). On the Bangalore Farm itself, he comments: ‘in regard to Mysore, … here if anywhere the Salvation Army should be able to make a large profit from the industry’. If with the cheap labour and even cheaper supervision available to it, they could not make the Farm financially profitable – as they were complaining in their latest annual report – ‘no-one can do it commercially’. He saw their silk enterprises as they had developed more widely as achieving nothing of benefit for the industry. On the contrary they were advocating practices often bad in themselves and able to survive only with the support of government subsidies.

Such problems would resurface prominently in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Much sooner, Tatas came back into the field, setting up a sericultural school at Closepet, for the 'benefit of boys of the backward classes and Mahomedans, who are made to work as wage earners' (Mysore Administration Report 1914/15). The Tatas’ various contributions to the silk of the South and the colourful part that the Salvaltion Army played deserved at least to be remembered.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Multicaulis in the mid-19th century

It was only at the end of the 1830s that Government of Madras became involved in promoting sericulture, and that indirectly. The attention of the East India Company in London had been drawn to a new American book called The silk culturist’s manual. It was by one John d’Homergue, ‘addressed to the farmers and planters of the United States’. During the 1820s an old interest in silk production in the United States which had faded and then almost disappeared in the War of Independence between 1775 and 1783, began again to appeal to ‘many prominent persons’ who ‘recommended its development’. The House of Representatives of the Congress became involved in 1826, directing the Secretary to the Treasury to have a manual prepared on the production and manufacture of silk (Klose 1963: 226). None was, it seems, available: Count Dandolo’s The art of rearing silkworms had appeared, in London in English translation from the original Italian of 1815, only the year before. In any case it was not directed to American conditions. In 1830 the Committee on Agriculture of the American Congress was then set to assess a scheme to make the United States a world leader of raw silk production.

This scheme had been put forward by an unlikely pair of Frenchmen: one had immigrated to America from France in 1777 at the age of 17 with a certain Baron von Steuben and as his ‘military secretary’. This young man was Pierre-Etienne du Ponceau, and the Baron was a Prussian soldier who was to become one of the leading generals in the American ‘Continental Army’, credited with creating a trained and disciplined army to fight under George Washington. After serving in the American War of Independence, Pierre-Etienne became Paul Stephen Duponceau, and in time a renowned jurist, philologist especially of American Indian languages, long-time President of the American Philosophical Society and, towards the end of his life, an enthusiastic exponent of sericulture for America. It was for this that he teamed up with a new arrival from France who was seeking his fortune from silk, the John d’Homergue mentioned above. Between them they were an attention-catching team, and their campaign in 1830/31 to get a national sericultural development programme financed under Act of Congress played an important part in a craze for mulberry cultivation and silkworm rearing that built up through the decade.

It was this excitement generated in America, which led the Directors in London to be alerted and then, eventually, to forward the letter they had received from a Lieutenant Colonel Sykes to the Madras Government at Fort St George in 1839. They passed the message on to the Board of Revenue, the Agri-Horticultural Society of Madras and to Surgeon Wight, EIC Surgeon, Naturalist and Botanist in the Madras establishment, with the brief of ‘investigating the natural resources of the country with a view to commercial exploitation’.

A key part of the excitement in the United States was the identification of one mulberry variety, morus multicaulis (many-stemmed), the white mulberry that was a native of China. It had appeared as the Philippine mulberry in the 18th century, in the course of exploration to find natural resources from around the world. It was notoriously difficult to distinguish varieties: mulberry’s apparent characteristics, such as leaf structure, were inconstant in different environments and the stocks so mixed by long use without consistent discrimination or breeding. In 1821 however, one George Samuel Perrottet, a distinguished French botanist who had been sent with a ship on a three-year collecting mission to the seas of Asia, returned with multicaulis amongst his collection and named by him. He was said to have found it on the banks of a river in Manilla, the capital of the Philippines in south-east Asia, ‘in the garden of a Chinese cultivator’, ‘growing with a vast variety of other precious plants which had … been collected from India, from Ceylon, from Sumatra and from China’. Perrottet obtained two plants, from which he established multicaulis first on the French Island of Bourbon, now RĂ©union, in the Indian Ocean, then in Cayenne, now in French Guiana in Central America, and finally in France, starting with the Royal Gardens in Paris. From there it was supplied to French territories and more widely still across the world.

In the United States, it first arrived about 1827. It was widely imagined that, at first called ‘Philippine’ or ‘Chinese’ or occasionally ‘Perrottet’s mulberry’, the multicaulis was an almost magical key to successful silk production. A vigorous market in young trees and cuttings built up. In 1834 it was selling for $3-5 a hundred, but within a few years ‘at $25 or even $500 a hundred’. Speculation in large plantations mounted in frenzy, until ‘the cold winter of 1839 killed many of the trees, chilling the enthusiasm and toppling the speculative price structure. Sericulture in America received a serious setback and a reputation it took long to live down’ (Klose 1963: 26-27.

The Madras government in 1842 – with the bubble already burst in America and having apparently made no progress with the matter of acquiring this wonderful mulberry still being called ‘Philippine’ here – was reminded that they were supposed to be propagating it. They should now obtain supplies from the Bengal and Bombay Governments. A covering note in circulating this instruction commented that it could be obtained from Pondicherry where there was a silk factory and plantation. The Agri-Horticultural Society replied that they already had the plant growing in their garden, from cuttings presented to them by Mr Groves of Chittoor. They had already distributed several hundred cuttings to ‘enterprising persons on the Nilgiri Hills and in Mysore’, and could with financial support provide 10,000 more in the following April or May. It was doing well and believed likely to do equally well in most parts of the Presidency. The Government then issued a call to all Collectors to submit their requirements: from Salem and Coimbatore, the application was for as many cuttings as possible; in Mysore it was already thriving; from the Telugu Districts of the north, Rajamundry, Nellore, Kadapa and Kurnool responded positively. Kurnool took until the following year to consider the matter but had then decided to try for a government-financed establishment for sericulture and reeling. They were turned down.

Sadly, multicaulis was no more the solution to sericultural success in India than it had been in America. Other problems in plenty lay ahead.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Pursuit of a bivoltine revolution (5)


KSP,  World Bank and the Japanese connection

The World Bank Project had gone ahead. It included numerous measures for the promotion of ‘silk production’, ‘silk processing’ and research and technical assistance. ‘Production’ covered the required infrastructure and financing up to cocoon marketing; ‘processing’ covered reeling and spun-silk production; and ‘research and technical assistance’ was mainly what went on in research institutes. V. Balasubramaniam, IAS, who as Director of Sericulture led the Indian side in setting it up but was posted elsewhere before it really got going, summed the project up from its mid point:
While an all-round gearing up of activities of the Department and modernisation has been attempted, the crux of the project lies in the construction of 10 modern grainages, establishing 1,700 chawki rearing centres and 150 Technical Service Centres for extension, strengthening CSRTI, establishing the KSSDI, training of Departmental Officers and CSRTI Scientists up to 380 man-months [in Japan] and Technical Assistance by way of Japanese experts staying in Karnataka up to 70 man-months (Balasubramaniam 1986:10-34).
The main target, he states, was 1,000 tonnes of bivoltine raw silk and 3,300 tonnes of multivoltine silk per annum. The need was therefore urgent for more bivoltine ‘pure races’ to be evolved. These were already needed to replace the aging KA and NB4D2 in the production of multivoltine hybrids, but they were also essential for the bivoltine hybrid rearing for the 1000 tonne target. They would not be identical to the races required in Japan and South Korea; for rearing in usual Indian conditions it was resistance to diseases rather than maximum silk content, which would be needed. It was, he had found, the USSR that had the experience, the research and the motivation to support India in achieving this: their research collaboration in silkworm genetics and rearing should be immediately sought.
Existing government grainages had been totally unable to meet the demand for the layings required even at the previous levels of production. The industry therefore had to depend on private Licensed Seed Preparers (LSPs) but they, despite their licensing, did not produce their layings in a proper scientific manner to maintain quality. The modern grainages to be built under KSP for Department use were therefore ‘pivotal’. They had also to operate on Japanese lines and to be organised accordingly. The existing practice was to secure P-1 seed cocoons from designated seed areas widely separated. To bring the Pure Mysore from Kunigal and the bivoltine from Anekal required extensive travel to bring them together at the grainages producing hybrids. This, on the scale required for the new large-scale government grainages, was certain to entail extensive melting of cocoons in transit. Therefore the existing grainages ‘should now start in a big way to have registered seed growers around the grainage itself. It should take the responsibility of supplying P-1 bivoltine layings and getting back P-1 cocoons’. This was, he wrote, the practice in Japan and ‘the only way by which the grainages under KSP can be made workable …’. More widely, the huge process of seed multiplication from P4 to P1 would be so complex that the Department would need to employ ‘highly qualified personnel’ and get ‘the entire process computerised so that a continuous review and correction [would] be possible’ (Balasubramaniam 1986: 20-21).
A further stage at which the Japanese model had to be followed was chawki rearing. The newly hatched and young worms would be highly susceptible to the unhygienic conditions of farmers’ houses. To give them a safe start in their development they needed to be raised in chawki rearing centres, ‘scientifically on behalf of the farmers’. In Japan this was done up to the third moult; it had not seemed practical to go beyond the second in India when KSP provisions were being set. There was also a provision for honoraria to be provided for selected progressive farmers to manage the CRCs: ‘It is always better to involve the progressive sericulturists in running the CRCs on the model of “extension farmers” of Japan, rather than depend entirely upon low-paid Government servants who are not from the local village’ (op. cit.: 21-22).
The carefully worked out discussions set out by the chief moving force behind the KSP programme provides an impressive demonstration, briefly exemplified here, of the exercise of forward thinking required to deal with the ‘linkages’ that have always played so crucial a part in silk production. What is only too likely to be missed in the exciting task of working out what is needed is the fragility of systems dependent on the proper occurrence of multiple inter-locked events in sequence: the required events have to happen not in the isolated space of a carefully programmed computer but amongst the uncertainties of a universe of complex interactions between human beings with each other and with the natural environment. Here the folly of trying to polish the rearing practices of Indian farmers to the semi-automated levels of Japanese sericulture is made basic. The risks from these practices and the limited motivation of junior Department staff supposed to improve them were to be countered - as far as possible - through the genetic potential of new races to be evolved in superior research institutes and university departments. These are however inevitably only two of the multiplicity of points at which the programme may slow severely, get corrupted or crash entirely (op. cit.: 15-16).
One of the first measures to be set up, in November 1980, was an ambitious insurance scheme for all the bivoltine rearing in the State. The premiums would be paid to an insurance company, the United India Insurance Co., by the Government of Karnataka; they would be recovered from a 2% levy from the farmers on the sale of their cocoons. The CSB was expected to subsidise this to the extent of 75% in the first year, reducing to 25% in the third, with the full charge borne by the farmers after that (DoS-K 1985: 16, #41). This proved more difficult in practice than had been anticipated. Three years later the Minister for Sericulture, Smt. Chandraprabha Urs, is found announcing that, ‘to eliminate spurious insurance claims, officers of the Sericulture Department were being entrusted with the task of examining the claims and testing the same’ (IS 22, 8/9, 1983/4: 21). Not long afterwards, its problems caused the scheme to be abandoned.
A paper on the Karnataka silk industry prepared by the Department of Sericulture (DoS-K 1985) for the Economic and Planning Council as the initial five years of the KSP were coming to an end provides an insider perspective on the progress and problems of the industry over this period. The enthusiasm for bivoltine displayed and the confidence in the solution of its problems were now considerably less. Doubt as to the inevitability of a bivoltine future was creeping in. Karnataka’s potential for further irrigation is ‘low’, it is asserted, and in future available irrigation will be needed for ‘food and other cheaper fibre crops’. For silk, rain-fed cultivation of drought-resistant mulberry ‘assumes a tremendous importance’. Hardier and more drought-resistant varieties would be needed for rain-fed conditions, rather than high-yielding varieties for irrigated use. ‘Although the individual farmer will have the choice of choosing the most profitable crop at his level, the maintenance of a proper balance amongst various priorities at the State and National level is the responsibility of all scientists and administrators’ (DoS 1985: 61, #155).
Not surprisingly, criticism that had been implied in the original Staff Appraisal Report of the Department’s performance in ensuring the production of good and reliable seed for commercial rearing is here deflected. The emphasis is placed on what the Department had long been doing anyway, increasing the production of mulberry silk in general, rather than of bivoltine particularly. It was being achieved by extending irrigated mulberry cultivation in non-traditional areas, in traditional irrigated areas by converting ‘low yielding local varieties of mulberry to high yielding M5 varieties’, and by, in the traditional rainfed areas, improving ‘production practices’ for both mulberry and cocoons.
The mammoth grainages in the plan – ‘10 Model Grainages’ – were already becoming an embarrassment. They are noted first as ‘recently constructed’ but then as ‘yet to go into production’. The buildings were not complete and ‘certain basic equipments’ had not yet been installed (DoS-K 1985: 23 (#63)). The cold storage units so essential for the planned year-round operation and the production of silk of internationally graded quality were, it turned out, amongst what was missing.
From the beginning, as the Staff Appraisal Report shows, there had been acute attention to the possibility of delays in procurement. Assurances were obtained from the Government on deadlines to try to avoid them. Despite this a major imbroglio had developed over the equipment for large-scale cold storage. This would turn out still to be one of the major preoccupations when the Project Completion Report was finally reached in 1991.
The story was complex and different sources emphasise different aspects and different connections in its development. From the ‘Borrowers’’ side comes the fullest account, actually prepared for the Government of Karnataka by a consultancy firm. The equipment required was large, complicated and non-standard: it ‘had to be able to maintain variable temperature, exact humidity, air and light for preservation of silkworm eggs, silkworm moths and seed cocoons’. Yet it had been assumed that it would be procurable from within India and a ‘local’ call for tenders had accordingly been put out. Bids were received, but none met the specifications: they were rejected by the Government’s technical committee. ‘The Bank experts should have known that this equipment which needed such exacting temperature and humidity controls could not have been produced in India.’ A different and less familiar procedure for international tendering had to be followed instead. The Bank therefore recommended consultants able to draw up the appropriate specifications and they were engaged (WB PCR: 12, #6,7). Time was passing.
The man who was by 1984 in charge of KSP at the World Bank later recalled that, new tenders having appeared from both Japan and Korea, the decision on them had to be taken by the State Cabinet. All the advice they had received had been in favour of accepting a bid from Japan but, for their own good reasons, they chose a Korean offer instead. He therefore told them that the World Bank was backing out unless they back-tracked on the decision. Eventually they did so, but it meant another two years of delay. Japanese machinery did then arrive, but in the meantime the exchange rate had ‘gone through the roof’’ (Chobanian personal communication, Bangalore, 1990): the value of the Japanese yen had increased by 60% against the Indian Rupee. The equipment that had originally been expected to cost Indian rupees only was now hugely expensive and a new furore broke out. The Indian Government wanted to impose a 90% import duty on the already large sum. As the Borrowers’ section of the Completion Report put it: ‘GoI, at the plea of the Government of Karnataka and the Bank, reduced the duty to 45%.’ It commented that ‘any government commitments such as customs duties’ should have been ‘fixed in a side letter with the participating Government agencies’ (WB PCR: 4, #5.3). Finally the cold stores, ‘the most crucial element to the success of future silk exports‘, were eventually installed in December 1989, after the final closing of the Project.
The decision to make a clean sweep of the mass of miscellaneous older grainages, replacing them with the new and properly equipped ones, never became effective. The revolution in quality seed production that had been boldly planned could not happen. The World Bank’s Completion Report reflected, softening fundamental criticism of the bivoltine programme itself with a padding of tentative caution: ‘In retrospect, the technological package proposed for rapid implementation was somewhat overambitious’; ‘possibly too much emphasis was given to bivoltine silk production, since conditions were not conducive to rapid development’ (WB PCR: 3, #4.1, 3).

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Swiss in South Indian sericulture - 2

The International Congress on Tropical Sericulture Practices, 1988

By 1988 a National Sericulture Project (NSP), to be again funded chiefly by the World Bank, was nearing agreement. This was being established not by any State Department of Sericulture but by the Central Silk Board, a semi-autonomous body under the Government of India’s Department of Textiles but based in Bangalore where the State Department of Karnataka also had its headquarters. CSB had been in indirect touch with SDC for a decade by then, as the owner of CSRTI and its SDC-supported ICTRETS in Mysore. It was in effect the manager of the new mega project agreed in 1989. It would control the World Bank’s funding, the crucial lifeblood of all such projects, on its route via the Government of India to its own subordinate institutions, both those already established and the new ones to be created, as well as through State governments to their own Departments and other institutions. Into this large and already complex set-up, SDC entered with its own concerns, values and plans. In funding and oversight, it would be a partner, inevitably minor, of the World Bank; in management it was the CSB of which it would be an uneasy partner.

In February 1988, with negotiations going ahead, the CSB lavishly hosted, over five days in Bangalore, the International Congress on Tropical Sericulture Practices. Inevitably, the majority of participants came from India, and within India from Bangalore itself, but 23 other countries were represented, some with substantial delegations. Japan, with 11 participants, mainly with commercial affiliations, was prominent; China had sent 6 academics and officials. SDC, joint host for the event, was represented by Dr R. Hager, its Deputy Regional Programme Co-ordinator, and Mrs Nalini Singh, the Programme Officer, both from the Swiss Embassy in New Delhi.

Plenary sessions opened and closed the Congress, and between them were five substantive sessions, of which the first was on Sericulture and Rural Development. Dr Hager was its Vice Chairman and it was here that Nalini Singh presented SDC’s own paper. The prominence given to such a topic was already a marked innovation for a sericultural conference. The usual and more technical sessions were on Moriculture Practices, Silkworm Rearing Practices, Silkworm Seed Production, and Reeling and Processing. There were numerous papers offered for each, ranging from 26 for mulberry and its cultivation – moriculture - to only 11 for the extensive but far less researched post-cocoon fields: reeling, further processing of the raw silk yarn, and weaving. There were contributions from across the sericultural world, as well as a mass from India itself (CSB 1991).

The paper contributed in the first session by SDC’s Regional Programme Coordination Office was itself distinctive. Unlike most throughout the Congress that took for granted in reporting research findings and reviewing achievements the desirability of sericultural development, SDC’s paper was already and characteristically self-questioning. It was sub-titled ‘A development agency’s hopes and doubts about involvement in the promotion of sericulture’. It saw the Congress as ‘a timely occasion for taking stock of SDC’s activities in sericulture, given the presence of experts, managers, administrators and policy makers for deliberations and discussions on the role of sericulture in rural development’. It noted that this was also ‘the main focus of SDC’s activities in this field’ (SDC 1991/1988: 21). It presented 10 ‘hypotheses’, the first four on apparently favourable effects of sericultural development, the remainder, if they were true, pointing to effects which would be regarded, at least by SDC, as unfavourable.


I Sericulture development leads to improvement in the living standards of a large number of small farmers and landless families.

II Mulberry is an ideal crop for supporting soil and water conservation measures in a given area.

III Sericulture provides a basis for producing large quantities of textiles from local renewable natural resources.

IV Sericulture has the potential to increase foreign exchange earnings of India.

Each was followed by a short discussion which included caveats. For the first, for example, it noted that it ‘might be totally or at least partly invalid if Government does not assist with schemes favouring small farmers and landless groups’. Here issues which would come to the fore a decade or more later were both foreseen and, in effect, discounted, at least for the time being. They wrote that if the ‘four hypotheses are valid, and the related conditions are fulfilled, we believe that sericulture development in India is compatible with our own development objectives and therefore justifies SDC’s involvement’ (SDC 1991/1988: 21-22).

The other six hypotheses referred to possible adverse effects. These were: first, for women in families, increasing the unpaid labour required of them, as well as weakening their position relative as increased cash income remained in male hands (V); second, for ‘resourceless households’, these might be further marginalised and exploited as disparities between themselves and the wealthy, able to invest, were increased (VI); third, a diversion of land from food to mulberry production (VII); fourth, making rural incomes increasingly dependent on unstable luxury markets for silk goods (VIII); fifth, mechanisation leading to unemployment of rearers, reelers and weavers (IX); and sixth, leading to mulberry monoculture and attendant dangers to both crops and soil in the long-run (X).

With hindsight, not all these potential issues look equally perceptive. They do, however, draw attention to the interaction of diverse factors that should ideally have been kept in mind if development were to be judged by the effects it could have for the society in which it was to take place. SDC had found in their experience of sericultural schemes that there was ‘a paucity of information and data’ which could bear on these issues. They wanted the CSB to develop a system to collect and analyse evidence in future and to make recommendations to ‘the various agencies concerned’.

The Rural Development session was well supported. It had attracted 15 papers and its discussions were extended to a concurrent session in the same afternoon. Such was the interest and enthusiasm generated by the day’s airing of topics that Dr Hager then proposed that the discussion be continued as a working party on the following day. This met with immediate agreement: Mrs Leena Mahendale, an interested IAS officer from Maharashtra, was elected to chair the working party, and Sanjay Sinha, a development consultant from New Delhi as rapporteur. The Working Group produced a concise and wide-ranging set of 7 recommendations ‘to all authorities and bodies concerned with the promotion of sericulture’. SDC’s spirit of questioning and its call to CSB itself to take up the collection of relevant evidence specifically on the potentially difficult subjects it had identified were, however, not taken up - and even they appear not yet to have registered that child labour was an issue. The Working Group’s recommendations also went beyond the SDC paper in the range of its topics.

Nevertheless there is little doubt that the SDC role in this first session and the Congress more generally had been a good deal more significant than the formal record of Proceedings (CSB 1991/1988) itself reveals. In any case, they were already yet more deeply involved with India’s sericulture. They decided, for good or for ill, to go along with the scheme the CSB was proposing: they would become partners in the National Sericulture Project. Their contributions would remain distinctive and they would prove challenging partners in the longer run too.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Swiss in South Indian Sericulture - 1


On 30th September 1980, the Swiss interest in supporting the South Indian silk industry was for the first time on public display. Harald Borner, ChargĂ© d’Affaires at the Swiss Embassy in New Delhi, was the Special Guest at the inauguration of ICTRETS at CSRTI in Mysore. ICTRETS is the International Centre for Training and Research in Tropical Sericulture. It was to provide training for people from other countries in the distinctive sericulture of tropical regions, as well as of Indian students, and was attached to the Mysore Central Sericulture Research & Training Institute. This was the leading such institute in South Asia, its roots going back to the 1920s. Borner, in his speech, paid glowing tribute to India’s progress in sericultural research.

The Swiss development agency, SDC standing for Swiss Development Co-operation, had recently entered into the first of what was to prove a long series of agreements with the Government of India to provide funding ‘to support the uplift of the rural masses’ (Sinha & Sagar 2007: 31). At this starting point they intended to do this somewhat indirectly. They were joining the World Bank as partners in providing refinance for the Indian Government’s own Agricultural Refinance & Development Corporation, in support of its provision of farm loans. Switzerland was a small but wealthy European nation, with a proverbial concern with banking and an interest in the rich silk trade, but no history of sericultural practice of its own. As a later head of the New Delhi office explained, Switzerland had, in Zurich and St Gallen, major trading places for silk and silk products. With Lyons in France and Como in Italy, they were ‘key players in international silk marketing and/or manufacturing’. In 1978, Mr Trudi, ‘one of the famous silk traders from Zurich, a so-called “silk-baron’’’, had suggested Mysore as ‘an outstanding centre for tropical sericulture which could become a centre of excellence with a little help’ (Heierli 1995). This influential opinion sparked ICTRETS and the particular interest in nurturing and improving silk production as an appropriate addition to its new and more general interest in Indian development, as well as to its wider international outreach.

Even in the agricultural refinance scheme, it was the ‘small farmers’ and socio-economic benefits which were the particular concerns of the Swiss. In his inaugural address for ICTRETS Borner referred to SDC’s own programmes – not only in India - which ‘laid stress on rural development to increase productive employment opportunities, to promote handicrafts and small industry and also, as a long term objective, to search for and preserve an ecological and demographic balance’. More widely, they had projects which included cattle breeding and dairy development, training for research in universities, skilled manpower development for industries, and, in rural development, particularly minor irrigation (Indian Silk 1980 19, 6: 13-15). An Indo-Swiss Tasar Silk development project was also already in preparation. It is clear that a fit with sericulture was already seen. They were going well beyond refinance and credit, though this would continue as a major area of their general concern in India (Sinha & Sagar 2007). The list of interests from that inaugural day would continue to have echoes in SDC’s diversifying involvement with sericulture over the following quarter century.

Characteristically, SDC’s support for ICTRETS was participative. It went beyond merely funding what an institution wanted to do with the money, or at least was prepared to do with it. As Mukund Kirsur put it in his later report, ICTRETS ‘bloomed as a result of scientific-technical co-operation between India and Switzerland’ in ‘a unique experiment in international co-operation’. SDC’s own Programme Officer, Smt Chitkala Zutshi, participated in assessment of the programme. After the completion of the first course that was taught she travelled, with the eminent former Director of CSTRI, Dr M.S. Jolly, to countries whose students had participated, ‘to assess the impact as well as their individual requirements of the training’ (1988: 18-19). Some Rs 35 million where provided over the 14 years of the collaboration which ended in 2004.

1980 was also the year in which an extensive Karnataka Sericulture Project (KSP1), set up by the State’s Department of Sericulture (DoS) and supported by the World Bank, began. It was a 5-year project but it was to be 8 years before it was finally closed. SDC did not participate in it and it was only towards the end of the decade that it took on further involvements with the mainsteam southern mulberry silk industry.

The first of these were Mulberry Sericulture Development Projects to be implemented with the State Governments of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Their sericulture industries were small in comparison to Karnataka’s – which at the time was producing about 70% of India’s entire output – and the size and scope of the SDC projects were also relatively small. The projects, which subsequently came to be known in SDC as ‘APTN’, were made up of a range of smaller initiatives closely linked to the specifics of the fields. The total budget was initially about Rs 3 crores over the first 3-year phase, of which the bulk, about 84%, was to be contributed by SDC.
Both were tailored to particular needs and interests in their States. They were rather more – if also a lot less – than merely attempts to catch up with Karnataka’s large-scale KSP and its apparent successes.

Their small-scale schemes were, specially in Tamil Nadu, often experimental. There they were largely paid for by the Tamil Nadu Government itself. The only schemes on both lists were disinfection of rearing houses - always crucial in sericulture. There were mobile units to travel round attending to individuals’ rearing and demonstrating how it should be done. Though ‘chawki’ rearing for the sensitive early stages of silkworm rearing also appeared in both projects, for Andhra it was to be for centres of the established kind, run by the still overwhelmingly male Sericulture Department (DoS); for Tamil Nadu it was for something new, a chawki-rearing co-operative society exclusively for women. This was one of three women’s schemes for Tamil Nadu. Another was also a co-operative but for silk reeling, and the third a silk reeling and spinning centre. Reeling, which had had been more or less ignored in the Karnataka Sericulture Project, appeared prominently in the Andhra list: there were units of 25 ‘twin charkas’, backed with necessary facilities and to be occupied by groups of reelers; training for reeling; and specialised dupion reeling units. They were to try a scheme for the private distribution of the silkworm eggs produced in government grainages. The Tamil Nadu list also included incentives for leading farmers to persuade their neighbours to take up sericulture, and loans for Sericulture extension staff to buy mopeds and bicycles to improve their mobility in the field. There were also to be mobile cocoon markets.

In AP, finally, there was a cautious move in the direction of bivoltine rearing, the great and conspicuously unsuccessful preoccupation of KSP1 and of its successor the National Sericulture Project. 100 ‘small and marginal farmers’ in one District of Andhra Pradesh were to be aided in following up the first successes of 12 others who already had their mulberry fields and were by mid 1988 already producing bivoltine cocoons (Pasha 1988: 26-29).

Friday, 23 April 2010

Pursuit of a bivoltine revolution (4)

The Karnataka Sericulture Project
Initial discussions between the World Bank and the Department of Sericulture - in the person of its new Director, V. Balasubramaniam - began in July 1977, at an optimistic period. It took until the less secure moment in 1979 for the international teams to arrive in Bangalore for the required Pre-Appraisal and Appraisal Missions. Problems were probably not yet very apparent, however, and as the Staff Appraisal Report dated May 1980 showed, the case for World Bank support had been well worked out.
The Bank was persuaded, as it needed to be, that sericulture in India had great achievements to its credit, was already promising but was in need of outside support to achieve even greater and definitely worthwhile things for the country, its economy and its employment-hungry rural people. The gap in yield and quality between Indian and Japanese silk showed how much was to be done; what had already been achieved that it could be. With hindsight the Report makes interesting reading for the thoroughness of its investigation but also the optimism, indeed wishful thinking, that suffused it.
As regards bivoltine silk, looking to future international trade the Bank was persuaded of the necessity of gearing the industry up for its production. They reported that ‘the rearing of bivoltines was initially beset by many problems, but successful intensive research [had] provided solutions and led to introduction of the Japanese method of communal hatcheries locally known as Chawki centers.’ These were essential for the demanding rearing of bivoltines, and their introduction had ‘increased cocoon yields by an estimated 20% over farm-hatched silkworms’. ‘CSRTI work was largely responsible for adapting this Japanese innovation to Karnataka conditions’. Furthermore, ‘as a result of close collaboration between CSRTI and the Government of Karnataka Department of Sericulture, use of unimproved local varieties’ of silkworm was, they were convinced, ‘being phased out rapidly’. ‘Foreign technical assistance and training’ would play an important part’ (World Bank 1980: 7 (1.24)). There was to be more and better of almost everything.
Grainages did not receive quite the precedence in this 1980 Report that the intended 1,700 ‘communal hatcheries’ had, but were, for bivoltine silk aspirations, crucial. The private grainages on which adequate provision of layings for commercial rearing mainly depended might be ‘adequate to deal with relatively hardy local varieties, but many of them are not capable of consistent production of disease-free layings of more disease-susceptible modern varieties’. What was required was more and better government grainages in which reliable bivoltine silkworm seed could be produced, at least to strengthen the Department’s hand in demanding better quality from the private lsps. The project would finance ten ‘large modern grainages’. They were to become iconic, but not in any way that might have been planned. ‘Each one would be a four-floor building with 3,200 m2 floor area, specifically designed and equipped for aseptic production of 10 million disease-free layings per year’. Seven of them would include cold stores to allow ‘year-round production and build-up of stocks for the peak demand period following the onset of rains’. They would have stand-by generators to deal with power outages, a familiar hazard. The first two were to be completed in 1982/83 and four more in each of the following two years. At best it would therefore not be until after the initial five years of the project that they would be fully operational. By then ‘project technical assistance and overseas training programmes’ to support the ‘modern operating and quality control methods for the new facilities’ should be available (WB 1980: 16 (3.08)). All but the largest of existing government grainages would be swept away or converted to ‘egg sale centers’, their original function to be taken over by the new generation of mammoth grainages. Size apparently was the panacea of the moment. Several would turn out to be monuments to failed aspiration.
KSP implementation began in effect somewhat ahead of the formal approval by the World Bank in June 1980 and the clearing of funding in December. It had ‘four major objectives’: ‘to increase raw silk production in Karnataka by about 1,600 tons including 1,000 tons of high quality , by providing better silkworm eggs and intensive advisory services to sericulturists …’; ‘to introduce modern processing facilities and methods that would upgrade raw and spun silk to export grade quality; and, for longer term improvement of the industry, to introduce the latest technologies from leading silk producing countries and to expand local research’. The project was scheduled to end in March 1985 after rather under five years, but key aspects of the planned unrolling of the Project took longer than expected. The expected closure date was extended three times and actually achieved only in September 1988 after about nine years (World Bank Project Completion Report 1991: 16).
Almost everything to do with the bivoltine side of the project was amongst the slowest to progress and often most problematic. A review by the leader of the Sericulture Department’s team in 1982 found that, in contrast to the Bank’s optimism on this score, even if seed production were increasing – and the figures here are, as ever, confusing – ‘effective utilisation for bivoltine hybrid preparation could not be made, due to various reasons’. The bivoltine ‘venture’ had not ‘progressed at the desired rate’; the programme needed ‘a thorough revision, so that a more meaningful approach to the various problems could be arrived at’. Neither the ‘various problems’ nor the ‘various reasons’ were pursued here: it was not that they were unknown to the author, though there were few others at the time had the necessary range of experience across the functionally linked fields of silk production - from growing mulberry and producing silkworm ‘seed’, through to the reeling of cocoons for raw silk. It was apparently not in anyone’s interests at this point to assemble what would certainly have been a daunting catalogue. The complexities of securing consistently good results in the final, reeling stage, for instance, had been well publicised for bivoltine cocoons early in the Bivoltine Programme years by Government Reeling Expert, N.R. Madhava Rao (see IS 14, 7, 1975: 7-11, 15. Madhava Rao ) who was the son of Navaratna Rama Rao, the first Indian Superintendent of Sericulture and pioneer of sericultural development through the first half of the 20th century.
What the review picked out was, from the beginning of the chain of production, declining yield from stage to stage in the multiplication of the vast quantity of silkworm seed needed for commercial rearing. At every stage in the process the multiple hazards of practice in the field remained. Problems had not been solved or even seriously tackled. The proposal here was at least to reduce the cumulative effect by cutting the four stages to three (Mahadevappa 1982: 1). Despite the eight years that had passed since the Jubilee, it was still near the beginning of a much longer and more difficult road in producing bivoltine silk than had been realised, let alone for producing the target of 1000 tonnes of it a year.
Despite the disconcerting experience in Karnataka, it was at this time, 1981/82, that the Department of Sericulture in Tamil Nadu decided to plunge into a Bivoltine Programme of the same sort. They distributed about 5 lakhs of bivoltine hybrid layings in selected areas with mixed but not disastrous results. ‘But the programme could not pick up’. The reasons identified were to do with the prices that could be realised for the cocoons. One was that the extent of defective ‘melted’ cocoons in batches when they came to market meant that reelers were unwilling to pay good prices for them. Even if that was not a problem, there was no ‘preferential price’ for them as compared with the ordinary multivoltines. Rearers were unwilling therefore to risk bivoltine rearing at all. They felt also that, with the reeling technology available at the time, it would not be possible even with good bivoltine cocoons to produce international grade silk. The CSB experts seem to have been of that same opinion earlier but to have changed their minds. This was probably, the TN Department thought, to do with the high cost of importing suitable machinery. An essential first step was therefore to get ‘sophisticated reeling machinery’ manufactured locally.
May 1983 saw IS with yet another, if confusing, announcement of ‘white revolution’: ‘Research breakthrough ushers in white revolution’. The cocoons were pictured in quantity on its sepia cover. They were now, however, not the white BV hybrids of the 1970s revolution but the golden multivoltine hybrids, the ‘Improved CB’ obtained by crossing the CSRTI’s relatively New Bivoltine races such as Kalimpong, NB4D2, NB7, NB18 with Mysore race female moths. ‘Thus’, proclaimed the eminent sericultural scientist, former CSRTI Director and author, Dr S. Krishnaswami, ‘the new bivoltine races evolved by the author have revolutionised the sericulture industry of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, resulting in the renditta coming down from about 14-16 in the past to 10 to 11 currently, which is no doubt a phenomenal achievement of the sericulture industry’. Now over 80% of CB layings were being prepared using these New Bivoltine races. They would not only increase yield and improve renditta; they would also produce international grade silk (IS 22, 1: 3-11).
In the first issue of IS for 1984 - combined with the last of 1983 - the Director of the Karnataka Sericulture Department, S.R Vijay, appeared in print announcing steps to boost BV silk. This would presumably be under the Karnataka Sericulture Project, though this project of the Karnataka Department receives, not unusually, no mention in the CSB’s publication. ‘As many as 500 villages were being adopted for intensive production of bivoltine. Extension staff were to be trained, and the 90 tonnes achieved in the preceding year might go up by 40 more’. But the current target of 1000 tonnes might still have to be revised (22, 8&9: 21).