CSB’s magazine for the industry, Indian Silk, had opened its response to the Workshop with an editorial statement that ‘Ministers, economists and planners were unequivocal in assuring all support to the sericultural industry in its grand march towards progress.’ It was not, however, an entirely fortunate moment to be making such assurances. The previous year had seen the end of the Vietman War but also the USA and USSR gearing up their nuclear arsenals with test explosions, and - most directly relevant - Middle Eastern Muslim nations challenging America and its allies. The oil-producing nations raised the price of oil by 70 percent and set up an embargo on supply to the US and the Netherlands. At the same time, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. This turned into a devastating defeat for the attackers in what came to be known to the Israelis as their Yom Kippur war. The tensions more generally, and the crisis in oil supply and its rising cost, produced destabilisation and acute inflation across the globe, seriously affecting India amongst others.
By the time of the celebration in Bangalore in April 1974 therefore, there were cuts in prospect in the promised government expenditure on sericulture’s ‘grand march’ under the 5th 5-Year Plan then beginning. The farmer sericulturists were already being affected by ‘the gnawing shortage of fertilizers’ just as the agents of government were exhorting them to ‘use them progressively as vital input for better output’ of superior mulberry. Efforts to secure a specific allocation of fertiliser for the industry had so far failed. The silk market had also been affected by an embargo on the export of raw silk. This was to support the weaving and garment manufacturing sections of the industry but was likely to be at the cost of returns to reelers and rearers as producers of the raw silk. As reported in IS, these were ‘some of the ticklish questions’ that were ‘somewhat embarrassing’ for the planners. Nevertheless, ‘promises were made and accepted by the industry with stoically docile countenance’. The Silver Jubilee events were considered ‘a grand success since, instead of extolling its own past achievements, the Board sportingly chose to stand face to face with some of the still-existing major problems, and resolutely committed to rededicate itself to their solutions (IS 13, 1: 3).
For the seminar next day, it was the ‘Bivoltine Revolution’ that led the reporting when it was published in the August number. It had not received more than passing attention earlier. Now, under the somewhat ambiguous headline REARERS OVERWHELMED BY BIVOLTINE REVOLUTION, a boxed comment read:
The introduction of bivoltine rearing has come as a boon to the rearing comity of Karnataka State. With their economy geared up, the primary silkmen of trhe State look at this new programme as the RICH TREASURE HOUSE and express their gratitude to the Central Sericultural Research & Training Institute (Mysore) for revolutionising the sericulture industry. The sericulturists who participated in the seminar also underlined some of the problems faced by them.
The respondents quoted were from two main areas. A rearer from Attibele near Bangalore, who had provided the ‘rich treasure house’ idea, also ‘drew attention of all concerned with State sericulture to the urgent need of providing proper grainage facilities’, both public sector and private. This, like most of the other six contributions, was referring to the need for good supplies of layings, available at the right time, from which bivoltine rearing could proceed. Providing an adequate supply to match the exhortation to take it up that was going on had clearly been a widespread problem, within the general problem of shortages identified by Chief Minister Devaraj Urs.
From the perspective of the would-be bivoltine rearers there were other problems too. A rearer from a village in Maddur Taluk of Mandya District noted that bivoltine had been reared successsfully and income ‘doubled up’, but added the other two general and basic themes expressed in the feedback: mulberry and the fertilizer needed for it, and disease prevention. As well as the need for improved supply of layings, bivoltine rearing had more demanding requirements for mulberry, both in the prodigious quantity of leaves that would have to be available at the late stages of bivoltine rearing and for the high quality of nutrition for which superior varieties would be required. Replacing the old mulberry gardens with new varieties was a major enterprise that would take time to achieve (IS 13, 1, 1974: 21).
Indian Silk’s respondent also noted that ‘proper preventive measures’ against silkworm diseases ‘should be suggested to farmers’. Another, the progressive rearer that the study tour had visited in Kolar District where bivoltine rearing had most quickly been successful, was enthusiastic, but he also added to his concern with disease a call for CSRTI to open more extension centres ‘to provide guidance for the needy poor rearers who had not benefited from it so far’. From the same region, another wanted motor vehicles so that ‘quick transporting facilities’ could be ‘extended to extension workers’ to enable them to supervise rearing, but again he also wanted ‘proper disinfection arrangements’ to be ‘made available to rearers’. He was also thinking in terms of ‘low interest loans to be given to rearers to construct spacious and hygienic rearing houses’.
All this represents forward thinking amongst the early adopters of the intended bivoltine revolution. To them it was not just the externally induced fertilizer shortage that was worrying but basic issues of food supply for the worms and of protection against disease to which bivoltine worms were generally considered to be more susceptible that the established CB worms. There was much supporting research as well as extension still to be done.
With hindsight, it was undoubtedly over-ambitious to announce the bivoltine revolution as already achieved in 1974. Nevertheless, the CSB did turn attention with some success to the problems of producing adequate bivoltine seed. Over the following four years, as a project under the 5th Plan, it established eleven bivoltine grainages in Karnataka and one each in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. There were seven more to come. They were to have a capacity of 10 lakh dfls, one million. Half were to be bivoltine hybrids, half multi-bi hybrids, the latter to be ‘improved CB’ using the male moths for second matings with multivoltine females. The procedure would reduce costs and provide an ‘economic utilisation of the valuable seed material’ (Ranganatha Rao 1978: 63). In 1973/4, two bivoltine ‘races’, called NN6D and KA, were released for rearing in the Anekal bivoltine seed area. The former was replaced three years later by NB4D2. Despite its and KA’s success, a further 3-yearly replacement followed, with NB7 and NB18. In practice these four races continued to be produced and tested at Anekal and all six introduced in these years were ‘continued in the field’. There were pairs in each case since the bivoltine hybrid practice required a separation of ancestry in order to secure heterosis. NB4D2, for instance displayed the dumbell-shaped cocoons of its Japanese ancestry, KA the oval cocoons of its Chinese. In practice, multi-bi rearing remained predominant in commercial production because the yield, at an average of 40-45 kgs per 100 dfls, could not be matched by the bivoltine hybrids with averages at the time of at best 32 kgs. (Mahadevappa 1986: 38-39)
From the somewhat sheltered viewpoint of the CSB and its research institute in Mysore at least, ‘the floodgate of revolution’ had been ‘flung open’ but what they now meant by this was that ‘the seeds of either the bivoltine or the multivoltine were being reared regularly’. Even the rainfed areas of the southern Karnataka, it was claimed, ‘started switching over to this new wave successfully’ (Ranganatha Rao 1978: 64). Bivoltine seed cocoon production did rise year by year, reaching 1,484 lakhs (148.4 million) by 1980-81. When the eminent B. Sivaraman, Padma Vibushan, was appointed Chairman of CSB in 1983, he was credited in IS (22, 2/3 1983) with having ‘inspired the launching of bivoltine programmes in Karnataka by initiating meaningful research on and by helping to set up silkworm seed grainages for production of bivoltine seed’. Mostly it was continuing, it was said, on ‘lines enunciated by him in the report’ of the Agricultural Commission (nd).
Sadly, this success with bivoltine seed cocoon production had not been carried through either to the yield in layings or the production of cocoons for commercial reeling from these layings. For that, 1978, the year in which the above optimistic assertion was written by Ranganatha Rao, the CSB Project Co-ordinator, represented a peak. In 1977/78 BV Hybrid layings reached 65 lakhs, compared with 1474 lakhs of CB layings. CSB produced half the BV and 4% of the CB, the State grainages the other half of the BV and 20% of the CB. The remainder was produced by the lsps, Licenced Seed Producers. While the State’s BV production increased over the years, if erraticly, the CSB’s declined, falling as low as 13% in 1980/81, the first year of the Karnataka Sericulture Project (KSP). It was only in 1982/83 that the erratic BV Hybrid production again reached and surpassed the 1978 peak. Conversion of layings into cocoons and from cocoons to raw silk were also both erratic, the overall record in these years being disasterous. (Chandra 1986: 61)
In 1898, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata (1839-1904) began to establish a 'silk farm' at Basavanagudi on the then southern edge of Bangalore. His earlier travels had taken him to France and Italy where ‘with his usual ardour,’ he had ‘studied and seen something of the cultivation of the silkworm’. A visit to Japan in 1893 impressed him with the scientific development of sericulture there. He considered that it had ‘incorporated all that was best in European methods’, and that ‘through Japanese instruction, India would obtain a thorough knowledge of the trade, fortified by experiments which were better adapted to the East’. He noted, with significant foresight, that ‘care of the soil was far in advance of anything done by the Indian’ (Harris 1925: 110). Quddus (1923: 21-22) commented that ‘no small part of the credit‘ for the revival of sericulture in Mysore in the early twentieth century belonged to J.N. Tata’s initiative there. ‘It may be pardonable to state that Mr Tata showed a more lively and more sincere interest in the improvement of this valuable Industry than even the British Government when they were in direct charge of the State or the Government of His Highness of the Maharaja soon after the rendition’ of 1881’.
By the time his active involvement with the Bangalore initiative began, Jamsetji Tata was entering the last and amazingly productive period of his life. It included, in 1902, the finalising in the course of a seven-month journey to England and the United States the great enterprises for which he would be mainly remembered: the founding of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, his great Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO), and the development of hydro-electric power for Bombay, all of which would come to fruition only after his own departure from the scene. The IIS opened in 1911 as a university devoted to practical scientific and technological research, the forerunner of all the prestigious Indian Institutes of the new century; TISCO was founded in 1907 and was producing at Sakchi, which was to be developed as Jamshedpur, from 1912; and the hydro power for Bombay was switched on in 1915. As Lala, his latest biographer, romantically exclaims: ‘And the light he brought to India is still shining’ (2004: 209). It was in the midst of all the stupendous activity entailed in getting these large enterprises under way that the Tata Silk Farm was opened. According to one of his earlier biographers, he spent Rs 50,000 on the project (Harris 1925: 110).
In Mysore his contact was the best, another of the great modernisers of the age, the highly successful Dewan of the State since 1883, Sir K. Seshadri Iyer. In Mysore in 1895, Tata had also been in touch with the old and influential silk-trading firm of Mustan of Channapatna – which also had a branch in Bangalore at the time – as a source of practical and financial information relevant to dealings with the Japanese industry in which he was already interested. In this connection a calculation of the costs and proceeds of reeling was made. A maund (mana) of cocoons, for long the standard unit in which they were bought and sold, equivalent to 11 kgs, cost Rs 12-4-0 (= Re.1.11 per kg). This would yield 3¼ seers of silk, a renditta of 12.3. Labour for reeling cost 5 annas per seer, making a total labour cost for the 11 kgs of Rs 1-1-3. The silk would sell for Rs 4-4-0 per seer, Rs 15.45 a kg., of which Re 0.63 was the profit margin. This is the kind of schematic calculation which for long prevailed in the industry, ignoring both overheads and additional income such as from silk waste. Mustan was already interested in the latter and in using Tata as a route for the export of waste as well as dried cocoons via Bombay (Quddus 1923: 23-25).
On a visit in 1897, Tata selected the land for the mulberry plantation and a rearing house, and subsequently obtained a rent-free grant and an annual subsidy of Rs 3,000 from the Mysore Government (Watt 1908: 1018; Tucker 1912). The farm was aimed at reviving the silk industry of Mysore which Tata saw as having been deserted by Government and become largely defunct. This latter understanding was wide of the mark but it presented him with a noble challenge. It was the industry’s potential value for the country and its poorer classes in particular, rather than any prospect of his own personal advantage, that motivated him. His Farm was to revive it by demonstrating Japanese methods and teaching them free to apprentices engaged for three-month periods. They were to study, as well as mulberry cultivation and silkworm rearing, ‘the possibility of improving the variety by cross-breeding; the detection of disease by means of the microscope; the preservation of cocoons for seed and for silk; the handling of the thread; its packing and its preparation for the market’ (Harris 1925: 111).
From Japan, Tata hired a Japanese couple as sericulture experts to run the farm, the husband, Mr Odzu, was generally known as the Expert, and he also recruited for him as an interpreter a Japanese servant of his cousin, R.D. Tata, who already spoke some English and Hindustani (Harris 1925: 110; Lala 2004: 54). Odzu arrived the following year, 1898, and was soon travelling by train from Bangalore to Mustan's base at Channapatna to inspect the mulberry the rearing and the reeling of Mysore. He came for a second visit, this time for three or four days, and by then he apparently spoke some English. He settled at the silk farm in Bangalore and started to experiment with the rearing of worms, first from seed cocoons obtained from Ramanagaram ('the Closepet breed') and then with others from Channapatna reared by Japanese methods. 257 seed cocoons were sent to the Farm by post. It was reported that Tata himself wanted preference to be given to the Mysore silkworms rather than importing French or Japanese (Lala 2004: 56). Mulberry leaves were also needed to feed the worms until they could be supplied from new plantations in the Lalbag Botanical Gardens in Bangalore or from their own plantation. In the meantime, obtaining the leaves from Ramanagaram proved practical: a contractor put a packet of them on the train to Bangalore each evening. But in Channapatna Mustan found himself unable to obtain a supply of cocoons: it was by now the height of summer. Reeling was more significant there than mulberry growing or rearing and Mustan was soon encouraging Odzu to experiment with reeling himself. A filature of 10 basins was constructed, the machinery imported from Japan. At the end of the year they were trying to buy 50-80 maunds of ‘raw’ cocoons, presumably to supply their reeling machines, and also planning to experiment with reeling at Channapatna. Both supply of cocoons and sale of silk would probably have been more convenient and cheaper there than in Bangalore.
The following year small numbers of seed cocoons were still being supplied to the Farm by post: they were to be well packed in a ventilated box. There were also bulk orders for reeling cocoons. In May, the height of summer again, these could be supplied at just over Re 1 per kg, but Odzu was contesting the price. ‘Everything was done upon the Japanese model, and the dexterous fingers of Indian children were quickly trained to revive an old trade’ (Harris 1925: 111). ‘Jamsetji’s experiment in silk farming proved’, it was claimed, ‘a success from the start’ (Tucker 1912; Quddus 1923: 24-5; Saklatvala & Khosla 1970: 54).
Tata himself died in 1904. By 1906, the Mysore Government was again showing a more active interest in the industry. It took advantage of the farm to provide training (Sharma Rao 1936, ii: 225), and two years later there were eight schoolmasters who had trained in sericulture there and were ready to take up teaching it in schools. At the same time Odzu, the Japanese Expert in charge, was commissioned to visit rearing centres to give advice on the proper selection of silkworm seed. There were also efforts to introduce new mulberry and better methods of cultivation.
The Farm was soon, however, to pass out of Tata control.
See Part 2.