On 30th September 1980, the Swiss interest in supporting the South Indian silk industry was for the first time on public display. Harald Borner, Chargé 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).