V1 mulberry

V1 mulberry
Kuppam, AP, 2010

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).