Navaratna Rama Rao & M. Yonemura
1. Yonemura and experimental breeding
M. Yonemura, a Japanese expert 'to whom goes the credit of evolving high-yielding varieties, modern methods of grainage and silk-farm works, and hybridisation between multivoltines and bivoltine silkworm races', was recruited in 1919 (19/20:6). The story is that Sirdar M. Kantaraj Urs, a member of the Mysore royal family, acting Dewan in place of Visvesvaraya in 1918 and taking over the following year, had gone on a tour of eastern countries which had taken him to Japan. There he had been so impressed by the progress being made in sericulture that he looked for a capable young expert and arranged for him to come to Mysore. There had already at the time been two staff hired to further the work in sericulture, H.S. Govinda Rao in 1917 and Shamsuddin Khan in 1919. Shamsuddin Khan himself describes the early recruits, without naming them, as Natural Science graduates, but it appears that he himself had a BA and it is not clear that Govinda Rao had any degree at all. They seem not to have been recruited specifically for research but they now were put to assisting Yonemura (Shamsuddin Khan 1965:11). He was a practical man who would judge the quality of the cocoons he was producing by reeling them himself. He and Rama Rao got on well together. Yonemura would visit his house and bring Japanese toys for his children (Madhava Rao, Mysore, 9.9.92). His services were initially extended for two years, with an option for him of having a third, and then by the three years.
In 1920 he had returned briefly to Japan. A Japanese operative had been sanctioned and he found and recruited the Lady Expert, E. Sato, to develop reeling. When he returned at the end of the year he brought back with him ten different races, three Japanese and three Chinese univoltines and one Chinese and three Japanese bivoltines. He was also already rearing a French variety as well as the Mysore race at the Institute in Mysore. There were therefore twelve pure races and a process of cross-breeding, rearing and selection began. He was also experimenting to find the minimum time required for fertilising the eggs during copulation. And he travelled around inspecting rearings. (1920/21:1,3,6)
In 1922/3, Govinda Rao returned from his course in Japan. He was put to assisting Yonemura in Mysore and extending the rearing work to Channapatna. The policy at this stage is very clearly stated: ‘The experiments aim at securing fixed races which while retaining all the best qualities of the Mysore silk worm, should produce a larger quantity of silk and arrive at maturity in a shorter time.’ Already, Rama Rao claimed, a 50-100 per cent improvement in silk yield had been achieved 'in some cases', and 'the time taken to reach maturity has been shortened by quite a week’. They were also experimenting with races for the different seasons of the year, in particular for the hot summer season and for the rains. 'The importance of this work can hardly be exaggerated.' (p. 2) Yonemura himself reported in detail on the year's work and his account gives a valuable impression of the complexity of the evidence provided by breeding and rearing as to the appropriate choices for the future. The results were clearly exciting. Various breeds had been fixed and were doing well: a Mysore-Chinese cross for instance matured in three days less than the Pure Mysore and showed an improvement of 50 to 90 per cent in the weight of silk and 10 to 40 per cent in the length of filament (p.3).
Some conspicuous successes were also scored in field trials. In the June-August rearing of 1922, this fixed breed, now called 'M2D (white)', was tried in Kunigal. 28 kgs per 100 layings were obtained in 24 days, 'with almost no sort of trouble'. Out of this both pure and F1 hybrid with Mysore were prepared for distribution. For the August-September rearing, this same material was distributed in Channapatna and was deemed to have done better still: 'this season of the year is very suitable for the rearing of any variety of silk worms, especially for the fixed breeds, and as a consequence the development of the worms was quite marvellous and they spun unexpectedly large cocoons'. By comparison with the fixed breeds, the F1 seems to have done less well. Overall they got 23 kgs per 100 layings, but what was more impressive was that, out of the 200 fixed race and 300 F1 provided to a new but obviously very large-scale rearer who was just starting his probably well supervised business in Chamarajanagar, 470 layings hatched in one morning and gave 364 lbs of cocoons, 35 kgs per 100, 'a crop which can never be got with the Mysore race, never mind how expert the rearer, or how favourable the conditions'. They had taken 27 or 28 days, using 4,700 lbs of leaves, rather over 2 tonnes. The experience gave a great stimulus to rearing in the area and have had a marked effect on the development of the industry’. (p.4/5)
For the fifth rearing of the official year, in January-March 1923, they repeated the old set and added one new. F1 hybrids were coming to the fore. They distributed more than 3000 layings of these and of M2D (white), mainly this time in Chamarajanagar, but also some in Devanahalli and Channapatna. The hybrid did well in all cases in Chamarajanagar and in Devanahalli but not so well in Channapatna. This success was even more conspicuous in the following, overlapping rearing between February and April. High temperature and humidity led them not to distribute the fixed breeds but to concentrate on the F1, believing that it could yield better crops despite the unfavourable season. It was therefore reared in the Farm as well as by a few farmers. In the Farm, from 23 to 31 kgs were obtained, and private rearers did well too. As a whole the crop showed a gain of 3-4 days in rearing time, 44% in cocoon weight, 70% in shell proportion, 43-50% in silk, and 34-40% in length. At last Yonemura had a sense of really having discovered something. He writes, in the first person for the first time in his own report from which most of the above detail is taken, 'Considering from the above results I prepared more than 1,000 layings of hybrid between Mysore and the fixed breed and distributed them to the raiyats of Nanjangud, Yelandur, Agara, etc.' In fact he was now using one new fixed breed and five different F1 hybrids of Mysore and a fixed breed. The results were good but are not reported in detail here (pp.3-7). This was now in the next reporting year, 1923/4, and Yonemura was apparently at the end of his time (p.6/7).
In that year no general report seems to have been published: there was only ‘A brief report of work done in the reeling section at Mysore’. K. Shamsuddin Khan had taken over as ‘Officer in Charge of the Office of the Silk Expert in Mysore’. Though the focus seemed to have firmly shifted onto the hybrids and they were rearing fourteen, besides pure and fixed races, and reporting their performance in the different seasons, there was no reflection on the wider significance of what might be achieved for the industry. A more specialised and enclosed or ‘scientific’ ethos was perhaps taking over as far as experimentation was concerned, with the raiyats and their rearings no longer in evidence. The ‘tentative conclusions’ reached were:
1. Univoltines show a tendency towards multivoltinism but temperature seems to retard this change.
2. In hybrid races multivoltinism is the character which takes longest to fix.
3. Different origins seem to impart different fitnesses to environmental factors: the Chinese withstand humidity, the Japanese low temperatures, the European dryness.
4. The limit of improvement to Pure Mysore has not been reached, and this should therefore be taken up.
But amongst elaborate tables of treatments and results is to be found the comparison which in retrospect is historic. It is between Pure Mysore and F1 Mysore x Nichi 106 white (Japanese):
Silk % Filament length (m) Denier
Pure Mysore 13.4-16.0 260-393 1.35-2.1
The hybrid 14.0-18.2 325-436 1.38-2.17
The next step from experiment to introducing the products of experiment into production had already been precipitated by a seed crisis the previous year. Climatic conditions in the commercial seed areas had been disastrous and lack of supply endangered the industry. In these circumstances emergency measures were required. The Department organised a Seed Campaign and made available ‘not less than 6 million excellent seed cocoons through selected rearers at Kunigal, Bidadi, Mylapatna and elsewhere. Even seed of new races and hybrids selected by Yonemura was included. The Department had, it was claimed ‘prevented a bad season of unsuccessful rearings and wasted mulberry leaves’. (1922/3:1) It was doubtless a hectic prelude to the excitements of the following year.
 The Annual Reports were mostly the work of Rama Rao as Superintendent of Sericulture. First references to them are shown with the official year of the Report followed by the relevant page/s; subsequent references to the same year show only the page/s, e,g. (p.2).