V1 mulberry

V1 mulberry
Kuppam, AP, 2010

Friday, 15 March 2013

Mysore sericulture's historic leap forward 2)



Navaratna Rama Rao & M. Yonemura
2.  From silkworm experiment to commercial production
In 1925, co-operation between Rama Rao & Yonemura was demonstrated by the appearance of the first volume of A Handbook of Sericulture, Rearing of Silkworms on which they had both worked. By then Rama Rao must have accumulated considerable experience in the field, and he was also well known for his demonstrable skill with English.[1] It was certainly Yonemura who mainly contributed the technical and scientific information, Rama Rao who turned it into a fluent English text.
The future was now coming into focus, as experimental results of direct relevance were slotted into place. In the first place, results from the rearing section suggested that the limits of improvement of Pure Mysore were now in sight, or were at least compatible with thinking so. It was apparently impossible to shorten its rearing period or get a better ratio of silk to leaves fed. On the other hand, it was apparently essential for the cross breeding of cocoons for reeling: 'it will not do to have cocoons of a colour different from that of the Mysore cocoons, for that would lead to complications in reeling and marketing'. This was one of the drawbacks of the fixed races which so much effort had been put into creating. A solution would be a back-cross between them and Mysore, but the back-cross hybrid with the fixed races is far inferior to the hybrid that can be got in the first generation between a pure foreign race, and the Mysore race. This hybrid, if white races are employed, gives a cocoon which, while practically the same colour as the Mysore, is over 100 percent superior to it in reeling quality'. The rearing period was about four days shorter in its most expensive part, i.e. in the worms’ final voracious stage before spinning.’
To be able to make F1 hybrids the basis for commercial rearing required the solving of technical problems. It had to be possible to rear pure univoltine or bivoltine races throughout the year in good quantities; it had to be possible to get them to emerge out of hibernation at will when required; and it had to be possible to regulate emergence so that Mysore and Foreign race moths would be available simultaneously to mate. All these problems had by now been solved. It had been shown that the Foreign pure races could be reared in Mysore conditions throughout the year and from year to year. It was thought that they retained their vigour over the years but suffered a 'seasonal enfeeblement'. This could be dealt with by rearing in the hot season in hill stations like the Bababudan Hills (Chamundiguddi) north of Chikmagalur, and 'renewing the stock occasionally by importing fresh seed from Japan'. In a result 'of great scientific interest', the artificial treatment of hibernating eggs to make them hatch had been achieved for the first time in India. And it had been found possible to control the time of emergence by regulating temperature even without refrigeration, which was not yet readily available.
Technically therefore, a new system of more productive rearing was in sight. It required also to be acceptable to rearers and for it to be possible to separate entirely the production of cocoons for seed from those for reeling. Fortunately, the greater productivity of the F1 quickly dealt with the former’s problem: 'Raiyats, who were rather shy of the hybrids at first, soon recognised their value, and the demand for them rose so rapidly that the grainage at Channapatna, which devoted itself to this work, could never fully meet it'. There seemed to be no problem of getting the new cocoons reeled, and the organisation needed to produce the huge quantities required of pure races both for commercial use for seed and for grainage work was at least clear, if an inevitable challenge. The future pattern of the industry could be clearly envisioned:
‘There is undoubtedly a great future for this development, which is in strict accord with Japanese practice, and in a very few years it will be possible to solve the seed problem satisfactorily. Seed production will be specialised and will afford an occupation to educated sericulturists, pure races will be reared by selected breeders, F1 seed will be prepared by controlled grainages [Government and aided private], and the rearers will produce larger harvests at less cost.’ (p.4/5)
In 1926/7, the Mysore grainage began in a small way to produce 'Cross-Breeds', joining Channapatna in the task. The following year it produced 23,000 to Channapatna's nearly 2 lakhs (200,000), and Kolar made a beginning too. The first cold storage plants were installed in the two main CB grainages, and experiments in their use in preserving moths and eggs began. They were to be used in production the following year. (p.2/3)
Rearing CB was not, however, proving quite as free of troubles as had been anticipated. One was the appearance of double or dupion cocoons, to the production of which the F1 worms were prone whereas they were scarcely found with Pure Mysore. Experiments were going on to try to reduce the proportion produced, as well as to solve 'some of the difficulties which sericulturists came across in rearing cross breeds'. There was also still an interest in suitable breeding combinations for the different rearing seasons. A need to import fresh seed from Japan, which should be possible with the help of Yonemura, was also addressed. To start with, the eggs hatched on the way; they would have to try again. (1926/7:2/4/5) In the following year's report there is, however, no mention of the Japanese seed, but new Chinese races made their appearance. The CB experiments seem likewise to have disappeared, perhaps deemed successfully concluded, perhaps unnecessary. (p.5)
In 1929/30, Yonemura was appointed a correspondent in Japan for the Department, to keep up with developments there. The apparent result was that fresh seed of 19 Japanese and Korean races was obtained, presumably chiefly for experimental work. Now the cold stores were working, and the only trouble was the shortage of Mysore Race seed because of an outbreak of plague and shortage of rain in the seed areas. Perhaps under the impetus of this shortage, the observation that Mysore seed sometimes gave 'a large percentage' of hibernating layings was noted. They had been being destroyed, but new experiments now showed that they could be got to hatch and produce well. (p.2/3)
The Yonemura period had been momentous, the Mysore silk industry transformed. The complexity of the many other intertwining elements needing to achieve equal success would  however continue. They were to provide engaging challenges aplenty for further generations of enthusiasts and experts.




[1] It should be noted that the official language of the Department was English from the beginning. Apart from the numerous reports and other work in English he published, his friend C. Rajagopalachari, popularly and affectionately remembered as Rajaji, ‘lawyer, independence activist, politician, writer and statesman’, credited Rama Rao with revising for him the text of his English version of the Ramayana : ‘My friend Sri Navaratna Rama Rao has thoroughly revised the English rendering and if it is found to be good reading it is due to his affectionate labour on this book. The faults such as may be noticed are entirely mine.’ Rajagopalachari, a native of Salem District,was amongst the most eminent of South Indians of the first half of the 20th century: Premier of Madras in the 1930s; first and only Indian Governor-General after Independence; and Chief Minister of Madras in the 1950s. See Wikipedia entry for Navaratna Rama Rao, accessed 7.3.2013, and, for the multiple directions of  achievement and  eminence of C. Rajagopalachari, accessed 15.3.2013.

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