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).