This blog covers the entire domain of sericulture. It is designed for providing a common platform for discussion between scientists, policy makers and students in the field. reproduction of content from this blog with due acknowledgement is encouraged.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Interview with Dr. RK. Datta.

Dr. RK. Datta is a prominent name in Tropical sericulture research. He belongs to that rare genre of technocrats who successfully combined scholarship, research and administration in their career. He was born in 1943 in Bengal, India. After obtaining Ph.D in Genetics, Dr. Datta built up his career as a teacher and a researcher. During his 31 years long career with Central Silk Board, India, as a researcher, Dr. Datta gained rich experience by working in various capacities and heading reputed national and international projects such as: National Sericulture Project of Government of India, JICA Project. FAO Project (Iran), Malaysian sericulture Project, Bangladesh sericulture Project, IFAD Project in DPR of Korea etc. He has also served as Member of Task Force, Dept. of Biotechnology, India, member of research Advisory Committee of CSR&TI, Mysore, Member of Editorial board of the Journals “Sericologia”, Lyon, France and Indian Journal of Sericulture.

As the Director of the Premier Sericulture Research Institute (CSRTI) at Mysore Dr. Datta steered the institution to higher levels of Science, Technology & training. He is widely regarded as the founder of a new school of silkworm breeding in India with a well directed application of principles of genetics and biotechnology. His work has earned him several laurels such as the prestigious Louis Pasteur Award of 1999, National Research Development Corporation awards in 1999 and 2004, Baldeodas Shah National Award (thrice) 1990-91; 1994-95; 1998-1999. A dedicated researcher, an inspiring teacher and a prolific writer, Dr. Datta has published more than 250 research papers in National and International journals, authored twelve books and supervised nearly ten PhD theses under his guidance. Dr. Datta is widely traveled. He has visited almost every part of the world which fostered interest in silk such as USA, Japan, France, China, CIS (Erstwhile USSR), Greece, UK, Italy, Belgium, Brazil Iran, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya and Cairo on various assignments.

At 65, Dr. Datta is still involved in active research. Currently he is the R & D consultant to the Bangalore Company “Sericare” who produces various products useful to the silk industry as also large scale production of silk proteins for use in animal tissue culture, nutraceuticals and silk films. During 2005, he could initiate a project on burn wound cover utilizing the bioengineered silk proteins. Results of this research offers solution to the much awaited demand for covering the burn and ulcers with non allergenic- epidermal growth promoting biomaterials.

Talking with Dr. Datta has been a pleasant and enlightening experience, given his flair for conversation and humour. Dr. Datta can be contacted at:

What is the importance of Indian sericulture, in the national and global contexts?

In India, importance of Sericulture at National level lies with its Immense potentiality to provide employment opportunity to rural people even more to women folk by avoiding their migration to alien urban areas (around 5 million people are engaged as full time or part time workers); also notable are its role in supporting to the need for recurrent income from sale of its products, its vital role in transferring wealth from rich to the poor; Employment support and continuance of handloom and decentralized power loom sectors both in rural or semi-urban areas of the country; Urban employment support like manufacturing seri-equipments, making silk handlooms, disinfectants, pest control products, growth hormones for mulberry and silkworm and finally and most importantly, it is catering to the demands of silk Saris, dress materials, silk carpets, blended fabrics etc in both rural and urban areas.

Its importance at the global context: Indian handloom materials like blended fabrics, dress materials, carpets which are unique in their quality and design are appreciated in the world market and demands are in increasing trend. India has trained large number of persons from the developing countries like many African and Asian personnel who later participated in promoting sericulture in their countries.

India is designated as world’s second largest silk producer. However we have not yet been capable of making any significant impact in the global silk market. What are the reasons?

Sericulture in India is practiced in tropical zone and thus success of bivoltine crops as seen in Seri-culturally developed country like Japan, China where it is concentrated only in temperate zone assuring higher silk yield stadium, is not found in India. Moreover, traditionally we grow silk to cater to the need of saris where preference is for handloom designs and of heavier weight of the cloth. Charka reeling which is highly cost effective and economic but makes uneven quality of weft (70%) is sufficient for making high quality handloom saris using filature reeled silk for warp (30%). Thus transformation of charka reeling to filature/ multi-end machined reeling remained a paradox over the decades. To capture the world market demand we require producing high quality warp and weft as well. Availability of cheap Chinese silk yarn and fabric remained as a bottleneck to expanding silk industry in India. Indian export failed to lead over that of Chinese silk fabrics due to price and quality differences.

During your tenure as the Director of CSRTI, Mysore, a large number of technologies were developed for tropical sericulture. Could you tell us three most important contributions during your tenure?

The three major achievements that I would like to high light are One- release of high yielding mulberry variety like V1 along with its cultivation practices which produces one and half times to that of the prevailing variety. Two- release of high yielding bivoltine hybrid, CSR2 X CSR4 and the full proof package of practices for successful rearing. And three- Development of a non-corrosive, non-irritating rearing room disinfectant, Sanitech replacing age-old use of formalin as well as unique bed disinfectant, Vijetha.

India is the only country that produces all the four commercial varieties of silk. How well have we exploited this opportunity to contribute to the country’s GDP?

Though India produces all the four commercial varieties of silk viz. Eri, Muga, Tropical and Temperate Tasars, exploitation of these varieties continued to be limited due to its existence in hilly forest terrenes of different states. Aboriginals residing in different forests though practice these wild silkworms, total production remained limited except in case of Eri culture. The latter is widely used as spun silk that blends well with mulberry yarn for making fabrics of different quality especially used for making male garments including suits. Of late tasar garments and suiting have gained momentum in export. However, overall contribution to country’s GDP is very negligible.

As a silkworm breeder and being at the helm of the most important tropical silkworm breeding station at a crucial period of Indian sericulture growth, could you tell us your experiences in developing various silkworm hybrids for the tropic?

In our main breeding Institutes of Central silk Board the thrust on silkworm breeding is a two pronged approach, i.e. evolution of both bivoltine and multivotine hybrids. Some of the new multivoltine hybrids (Multi- x bivoltine breeds) evolved are found highly promising having improved shell ratio and yarn neatness. In tropical climate, farmers prefer to rear multi x bivoltine hybrids over that of bivoltines due to low risk factor. Fairly large number of bivoltine hybrids including double hybrids evolved at CSRTI, Mysore is found very good for silk industry since raw silk percentage and neatness are very high in those hybrids compared to multi-bivoltine hybrids. Some of these hybrids are in field and India is able to produce 1200 MT of bivoltine silk now.

Since National Sericulture Project, Bivoltine Sericulture has been given major stress. Do you think the salvation of Indian sericulture is through Bivoltine sericulture alone?

No. As I have mentioned in response to your question earlier, Indian sericulture is dependent on both multivoltine and bivoltine hybrids. This is so due to massive demand for silk saris in the country, where multivoltine silk support is crucial. Moreover, in tropical climatic conditions one can’t rear bivoltine hybrids in all the seasons.

Why in spite of technological advancements, foreign technology support and huge investments for past 15 years, diffusion of Bivoltine hybrids is just 5% in India?

It is unfortunate, despite evolution of excellent bivoltine hybrids only 9% of the total silk is the bivoltine (1200MT) one and the rest is multivoltine. However, some quantity of bivoltine hybrids also goes for preparing multi x bivoltine hybrids. Reasons are not difficult to understand- (i) bivoltine cocoons many a times do not fetch the expected higher price, since demand for multi-bivoltine cocoons is higher from the charka and cottage basin reelers [bivoltine cocoons are transacted in Ramnagaram (Karnataka State) market only]; (ii) processing cost of bivoltine silk is higher (iii) Chinese bivoltine silk are comparatively cheaper compared to bivoltine silk produced in India (iv) Farmers experience difficulty in raising bivoltine cocoons in tropical climate.

Given the potentials of silkworm as a model genetic system and a bio reactor, how well did India exploit it either industrially or academically? What are the reasons for the sluggish progress?

Significant progress has been made in Indian research on the molecular genetics and biotechnological researches on silkworm and mulberry including the use of silkworm bye-products. Research Publications of last ten years confirm that. Now transgenic silkworms were utilized for developing silkworm strains controlling the virulent silkworm disease like NPV using the latest technique of RNAi. Private Company researches are initiated on the use of silk proteins like fibroin, sericin for use of biomedical devices, nutraceuticals, mulberry tea, health drink etc. Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Govt. of India has now decided to establish a full fetched Silk-biotechnology Research Institute in Bangalore.

Sericulture is one of the most technology rich areas in Indian agriculture. Do you think matching technological progress was made in the post cocoon sector? What are the reasons?

So far as my knowledge goes silk technological researches undertaken at Central Silk Technological Research Institute (CSTRI), Bangalore have done impressive work in last two decades. Problem lies with the implementation of those technologies in the silk industry which is uniquely different from that of Japan or China. Silk Industry in India remained as an unorganized decentralized sector. Only a few progressive reelers or silk factories are coming forward to utilize the expertise available with CSB. However, CSTRI has also done lot of work for the improvement of decentralized sectors too, like existing charka reelers, multiend reeling, handlooms, Jacquard machines, cheaper drying equipments for cocoons, dyeing and printing of handloom fabrics. Some of the Bangalore silk fabrics manufacturing companies are able to compete with the renowned international companies for the sale of silk fabrics at a very high cost in USA.

Do you think that the allegation that Peoples Republic of China is dumping silk in India is true? Isn’t it a natural outcome of liberalization of Indian economy, and a part of the globalization phenomenon? Why couldn’t we utilize this opportunity to strengthen the domestic silk weaving sector in an export oriented manner?

I don’t call it an intentional dumping of silk. National demand of silk is very high (23000MT or above) compared to that produced in India (17000MT). Chinese silk being cheaper, Indian companies purchase the silk in order to cater to the need of export market. In fact, good silk fabric manufacturing companies have come up in India using imported silk yarns for exporting Indian silk goods in foreign countries. Unfortunately, powered handloom and small power loom sectors are also using the Chinese silk to meet their need for warp and creating pressure on development of domestic silk industry. Good news now a few entrepreneurs have now installed 400 end multiend reeling machine in the States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh with the support of Govt. subsidy (50:50) for machines procured from China. One thus wishes more number of such entrepreneurs enters in the reeling business with the increase in production of bivoltine cocoons.

We see that sericulture gets gradually eliminated as countries improve their GDP. What is the fate of Indian sericulture in another 20 years time?

It is a fact and no one can deny that. Sericulture being highly labour intensive, it is difficult for making silk products at a cheaper cost. Owing to the huge internal demand of silk in the country we are able to sustain this enterprise. As long as elite classes pay for silk at a higher price, sericulture will continue to survive in the villages. But most alarming situation has arisen now due to sudden hike in labour cost that does not commensurate with the increase of silk price fetched in the market. Thus production drop in different states can’t be ruled out. However, Indian sericulture will survive as long as sale of Chinese silk remain moderately competitive or high in the market.


mahimashanthi,D.D.,SERIFED,Kerala. said...

The interview with the seniormost scientist of sericlture is quiet encouraging.The cost of production of silk cocoon and silk is comparatively higher when compared with eighties but the income is very low.Benefit margin of each sericulturist is very narrow, that too with lot of uncerternities. Hence the scientist and government should do necessary steps to safeguard the seirculturists i.e.,farmer,reeler or weaver

somashekar said...

The questions posed and the answers given by Dr Datta clearly reveal the present position of sericulture in India.I agree with Dr Datta that as long as there is state support sericulture will survive. Besides, as long as there is a demand for hand woven traditional silk saris sericulture with predominantly multivoltine silk faces no threat.As a major part of our sericulture shall continue as multivoltine for reasons mentioned by Dr Datta , it is pertinent to focus on quality and productivity improvement to optimum levels in our own situation.
Dr T H Somashekar
Director (Retd) CSTRI, Bangalore.

BHATIA said...

Sir, Please arrange to know the methodology of disease inoculation in Bombyx mori, and how to determine the pathogen load? Please guide me in detail, because I am new to this wonderful world silkworm pathology.
NK Bhatia, 09456541542

BHATIA said...

Sir, Please arrange to know the methodology of disease inoculation in Bombyx mori, and how to determine the pathogen load? Please guide me in detail, because I am new to this wonderful world silkworm pathology.
NK Bhatia, 09456541542

bashabai said...

.I agree with Dr Datta that as long as there is state support sericulture will survive.Congress Youth Leader in Bangalore Central

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