Bringing back the golden glory of jute

Improving jute fibre extraction and its quality

Dr. Faruk Ul Islam

31st May, 2020 02:54:20 printer

Bringing back the golden glory of jute

The big pain

We are bringing back the past glory of our jute. Should we be proud of being the world’s largest raw jute and fibre exporter only? Despite many recent golden initiatives, we could not explore yet the full potential of making it really a golden eco-friendly product of Bangladesh for the global market. A long way to go. The market of traditional jute products is decreasing but there is a great potential for jute-diversified products in the local and global market.  Improving jute fibre processing technology and integration of small, large jute fiber and product factories with the local and global market, and making jute stick a high value industrial raw materials are some of the key challenges. Many recent efforts of the government and private sector started to transform the jute sector in a new dimension. We are discovering new secrets of the jute plant, golden fiber and jute stick for the future.

Securing quality of jute fibre is one of the biggest concerns of producing high value jute product. Traditional jute retting and fibre extraction take substantial labour, time (18-20 days) and cost (around 2000 BDT per bigha) which need change. The jute farmers and associated entrepreneurs need a breakthrough in conventional post-harvest practice. The real pain of our jute processing and textile sector is of many folds –such as removing hard labour in jute processing, overcoming water scarcity for retting, jute stick processing etc.

Practical Action – an international organisation well-known for supporting technology access and innovation, Karupannya Rangpur Ltd. – a champion in jute product manufacturing and export and RDRS – a large national NGO working together with the Rangpur Chamber of Commerce to bring change in jute textile value chain in Lalmonirhat, Rangpur, Gaibandha and Kurigram district. They made a breakthrough against the conventional practice of many years by introducing a new small jute fibre extraction machine. The journey started from the northwest area of Bangladesh with a great vision of change in the jute sector for the whole country. They emphasised that jute diversification is not possible with poor jute fibre quality. In some years, flood water affects the jute retting process (washed out many floating beds, farmers faced the physical challenge of harvesting plants in the high depth of floodwater). Early flood forces farmer to harvest before a planned schedule affect fibre quality. Farmers and related stakeholders felt that we need a breakthrough in improving fibre quality by changing our traditional retting process to go to the next step of jute product diversification and getting better price of our product. Farmers were not found to use mechanical method of jute fibre separation in the past. Perhaps that was not necessary for the conventional type jute products (rope, sac), but which is now urgent for high quality value added jute products. With the growing demand for high add value, diversified products jute retting mechanisation has become obvious for obtaining quality fibre. On the other hand, the unexplored potential of jute sticks, jute leaf with jute fibre have been realised. Farmers never thought of jute stick as a 2nd important option for substantial earning along with the fibre. They have only used it as fuel and for fencing. But they recently realised that it as a raw material for particleboard industries. It can be used to make smart fuel like a charcoal stick and other diversified uses. Already several initiatives have been taken by the government and private sector to make jute leaf drinks, and bio-degradable bags, house roof materials form jute etc. There are some small factories already started to use jute stick to make charcoal or smart fuel in Northwest. Not only that there are around 15 small product making factories in Northwest for jute weaving and product making. But the main question is how market competative they are? Isolation of the small jute product factories with a larger one, with the global market, is a great barrier for jute product trade. Therefore, linkage and integration between jute mills, large jute product manufacturing factories, small jute industries, particleboard industries, jute diversified product workers, small buyers, large buyers, retailers and exporters are very essential.

With the increasing trade potential of engaging women in the jute sector could be huge. Perhaps jute weaving could be an important area of women engagement and employment. Export logistics information is also not easily accessible to small jute product making factories.

We need to emphasize on our export on value added eco-friendly jute diversified products not selling much of rope, sac and raw jute. For doing that the government policy should support more on improveing jute fibre quality, spinning and weaving and product making capacity for world class jute diversified products. We can reduce raw jute export and shift conventional jute product export to high value added products.

The big picture

Around 30 million people (3 crore) involved in the jute sector of which 0.2 million (two lakh) people working in jute factories, and 0.1 million (one lakh) in jute trade. We have around 3.5 million jute farmers growing jute (in 8.17 lakh ha.)The government’s new jute policy is expected to focus on enhancement of the country’s production capacity, diversification of the product base and growth of export earnings. Jute sector has the potential to rise up to 300 percent of its current size domestically (Source: Innovision). Earning from jute and jute goods export is showing an increasing trend.

Aligned with present Government’s high priority, Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) has taken several initiatives such as – promotion of the seed of Kenaf varietiy (for bright colour fibre), continuous improvement of the fibre extraction machine. European Commission through its PRISM programme supporting small factories and rural entrepreneurs for mechanisation in the value chain and creating local employment and economic development.

The big solution

Jute researcher’s and jute porduct manufracturers recommended mechanisation of jute fibre separation and ribbon retting process overcoming the problems (CIGR, 2015) of fiber seperation from the stick. If we consider immediate and long term steps, the first and most important issue we found is the improvement in fibre quality imporvement in three ways –

1) Thorough using quality seeds of right variety (bright color of fibre) and then

2) Introducing a semi-automatic power driven fibre extraction machine and

3) Changing the traditional retting process.

The main solution is to separate the fibre and the jute stick so that the burden of carrying large volume reduced and less water and labour is required for retting jute.

As new start-ups, 144jute fibre extraction machines have been demonstrated in 4 northern districts reached around 25000 farmers which could increase to double. The machine was intially brought by a private jute manufacturing company Karupynnya Rangpur Ltd in 2018 and later diversified and largely promoted by Practical Action and RDRS in 4 districts of Northwest Bangladesh. The new machine entrepreneurs got only 10-12 operation days of the total season of one month in the first start up year later increased to three months. The machine found to operate 7- 8 hours per day and extract jute fibre from 3 bigha (33 decimals= 1 bigha) of jute land per day. It can seperate fiber from 2-3 tons of green plant per day. The machine entrepreneurs charged 1500 taka per bigha of jute land which is relatively cheaper than manual labour cost. On investment, around 7-8 hours’ operation requires 4-5 litre of diesel  and two skilled labour cost including the labour two entrepreneurs (most cases husband and wife). The entrepreneurs are trying hard to use the machine for multi-purpose uses such as threshing other crops for year round income. We are taking intiatives to manufacture the machine locally in a cheaper price for next season. With the improvement in variety, mechanisation and improved retting process jute farmers are expecting to get 10-15 percent increased price for their improved quality jute fibre.

Let me give a real example of this season. Nurul Haque lives in Vuridhoea village under Lalmonirat District, has 250 decimal arable lands who cultivates 02 varieties of Jute (Kenaf & Tosha) in 94 decimal land. He was found enthusiastic of the Kenaf jute variety for its high productivity. Plant height of the jute was 15-16 feet and the fibre was much brighter would obviously attract comparatively higher price. Nurul Haque cultivates Kenaf variety in 54 decimals, used the newly introduced semi-Automatic Machine (Ashkol) for separating jute stick and fibre/ribbon and learned an improved jute retting system in ponds. Normally he used to pay Taka 2,000 to Taka 2,200 labour cost for threshing jute plants of one bigha of land, whereas he paid only take1,500 per bigha for using the machine. He is happy with the quality of fibre and extra 280 kg jute this time than the last year. It didn’t frustrate him when jute sticks were broken into small pieces by the new machine. As he sold 55 mounds of wet jute sticks to a local trader at BD. 4400 this season and expecting more profit of BDT 15000 from jute and jute stick from around 94 decimal of lands by using the new machine, new variety of jute seed and new retting process. Under the new retting process now they have to put only the fibre to a pond not the huge jute sticks which need less area and less water for retting which require 10-12 days instead of 18-20 days was a big positive change.

Special note

Particular unique aspect of the current solution is to secure eco-friendly jute fibre processing which will require less water, less labour and less pollution to the water bodies. It will open new avenue for Jutesticks as an industrial raw material in the local and global market.

 

The author is an agriculturist, working for Practical Action – an UK based INGO promotes technology innovation, has been working in development sector for 24 years.


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