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Ensuring a Sustainable Future for Jute Sector

  • Ayub Nabi Khan
  • 14th August, 2022 10:09:14 AM
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Ensuring a Sustainable Future for Jute Sector

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Tender jute plant particularly its buds and leaves were being used in Arabian countries as soup ingredients and till today jute vegetables and soups are liked by them very much. To meet such requirement dwarf size evergreen jute plants with abandons of leaves and buds are grown there throughout the year. That the jute stem contains bulk of useful fibre came to the knowledge of human being just by an accident when matured jute stems were boiled while preparing jute soup.

In the soil of Indian sub-continent jute was first identified by Mr. William Rox Barge the curator of Calcutta Botanical garden in the year 1696 amongst the uncared herbs of the said botanical Garden. In those days also jute leaves and buds were used as vegetable and enzyme only.

Jute is a versatile and environment friendly bio-degradable natural fibre widely grown in Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, India and China. 60% of world’s production is produced in Bangladesh. It is a rapid growing renewable bio-mass and photo-reactive crop with only 120 days harvesting period. It is an important cash crop in Bangladesh and India, which together accounts about 90% of world production of jute fibre. Jute is used for various domestic, household and farmyard uses.

For centuries jute has become an integral part of our national culture and the economy of Bangladesh. In 19th century, most of raw jute was exported to the United Kingdom. It earned 80% of foreign currency at that time. It was a cash crop of Bangladesh and called the golden fibre of Bengal. But as the use of polythene and other synthetic materials captured the international market as a substitute of jute, its existence was in question. For many years, farmers of our country are not getting fair price. Many exporters who were dealing in jute are now found less interested in jute trading and are giving up jute business. The jute related organisations and government bodies experienced closure and reduction of fund. As a result, Adamjee Jute Mill, the largest jute mills in the world, closed down.

Bangladesh, the drainage basin of big rivers has been bestowed with alluvial soil, and the availability of non-stagnant water for jute retting has a distinct agro-ecological comparative advantage in production of best quality jute. Though market for traditional jute products had been declining continuously in the recent past, now with the increasing environmental awareness, eco-friendly and bio-degradable products are gaining popularity both in developed and developing countries for combating retardation of ecological degradation due to green house effects. Jute and jute products not only retard ecological degradation but also conserve environment and atmosphere as a whole. All these positive situations have created a new scope of reinventing jute and jute products and their effective exploitations.

After paddy, crop field usually put under jute farming. This alternate cropping thereby helps curb the menace of weed and insect pest as these are mostly associated with particular crops. Moreover, jute farming enriches soil in multifarious ways. A jute stalk bears a lot of succulent leaves that shred on the land continuously during its maturing. The majority of the leaves and roots of jute stalks after retting enhance the fertility of soil.

Soil fertility of jute fields also heightens through many other ways. Of all the crops, jute fields witness highest quantity of earthworm activity. Earthworms produce huge vermi-compost, which possess high-quantity of nutrients for crop. Besides, the earthworm which is also known as “natural plough” keeps the soil loose through pulverisation. Other organisms like beneficial insects and microbes also become more active in jute fields. As jute stalks produce large number green leaves, they absorb huge carbon dioxide from nature, minimising the green house effect.

The entire jute industry is labour intensive. If we consider farming alone, it involves a lot of labour from preparation of land to selling of jute fibre in the market. That is, jute cultivation produces a lot of economic activities in rural Bangladesh. The dividend is also high. Besides jute fibre, there are various uses of jute stalks. In rural areas jute stalks are used as firewood.

Jute is the second important vegetable fibre after cotton not only for cultivation but also for its diversified uses. It is environment friendly and biodegradable. It is strong fibre. Jute is not only used mainly to make cloth for wrapping bales of raw cotton, to make sacks, hessian clothes, carpets but it has other uses in automobile industry, pulp and paper industry, furniture and bedding industry, home textile etc.

Geo-textile is another area of application of jute. Jute fabric can be used for soil erosion control, seed protection, weed control and many other agricultural and landscaping uses. The use of jute in land brings new hope in turning the deserts into oasis.

A recent survey shows that jute is regaining its old pride due to the rising trend in demand in the international market. The price of raw jute has increased dramatically by more than 40% this year, paving the way for farmers to earn Tk. 3000 per maund and Tk. 1500 per maund for best quality and low quality raw jute respectively. As such Dhaka’s contribution in the global Jute market is 62 per cent. In 2020-2021 fiscal year, Bangladesh’s total export earning was 1.161 bn US$ against target of 1.167 bn US$. The percentage change in export earning was 31.63% higher than previous fiscal year 2019-20. It reveals that Jute’s demand is rising and it will rise in future. Experts says that we can reach to 5 bn US$ if pragmatic steps are taken to increase the export.

Many countries of the European Union (EU) as well as New Zealand and Canada have taken an initiative recently to ban single-use polythene bags in their territories. Some countries like Luxemburg and Denmark have already imposed taxes on these bags. There is a demand of worth Tk 47.5 billion US$ in the EU alone for non-plastic bags. When the bans come into force, jute bags can be better alternative to plastic bags in these countries. According to the international think-tank 'Research and Marketing', the global market for jute bags till 2018 was US$ 1.80 billion, which is expected to rise to US$ 3.10 billion by 2024. Apart from bags, the use of jute goods is now in increasing trend in other areas as well. The leading producers of vehicles in the world announced that jute would be applied in manufacturing a substantial part of their interior. Jute sticks have also emerged as a new commodity in the international market in recent times. Charcoal produced from jute sticks is being used both as fuel and photocopier ink. Besides, application of jute goods is on the rise in gardening and household areas, and according to the estimation of some business organisations, in 2022, the Home Gardening and Vertical Gardening market will be of 1.33 trillion dollars.

Jute sector also contributes towards the employment. More than three crore people are directly involved with export-oriented jute sector. There is also demand of qualified manpower in mid-level management in this sector as the industry is facing huge shortage of qualified manpower.

In Bangladesh, low value added and traditional products accounted for around 98 per cent and the diversified jute commodities constituted only about 2.0 per cent of jute sector exports. This ‘golden fibre’ can recover its image as jute-diversification has been broadening the new prospect of jute. Currently, around 300 types of jute products are being produced in the country. Nowadays jute is in use in carpets to the sophisticated airplane. In order to make it more competitive in the world market, more research work needs to be carried out in diversification of jute products. It is encouraging that recently some products are developed for sustainable apparel items that have good demand in international market.   

It is also important to point out that any fibre can make better place in the tomorrow’s world fibre market if research and development works are being carried out and significant allocation of fund given. It is equally applicable to jute also. If proper research and development work in the different stages of jute fibre production and manufacture of jute yarn, fabrics with special importance in the process and product developments are carried out, jute will get a good place in the textile world along with cotton, wool, and other natural fibres. We shall have to open the future possibility through coordinated efforts for creating new horizon for jute allied fibres and its blend with other fibres. In this regard Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) can play a pivotal role.

To meet the demand of raw jute and jute products of the world, it is high time we took steps to implement the following tasks:

1. Increase of raw jute production

2. Increase of jute goods production

3. BMRE of existing jute mills in private sector

4. Encourage the private and foreign entrepreneurs to invest for setting up new jute industries in closed mills through PPP initiative

5. Research and diversification work in the production of value added jute products i.e. jute diversification, jute composite etc. by revitalising and rejuvenate the country’s lone research organisation on Jute BJRI

6. Extension of domestic and international jute market by keeping of existing market

7. Effectively implementation of government order to use jute shopping bag, school bag, jute bag for packaging of items like food, cement industry and nursery pot etc

8. Gulfra Habib of BJMC can be utilised for producing jute mill spare parts as well machines for jute mill of spinning, weaving etc as they have skilled technician and know-how. These machines can also be exported

9. Local engineers with specialisation in jute technology should be produced through setting up of Jute Technology Department or even jute technology course in existing Textile Engineering curriculum

10. Steps to be taken to create Technology Development Fund

11. Steps to be taken for branding the Bangladeshi jute products through Bangladesh mission abroad

It is painful that we are watching the closure of mills while there are bright prospects of this fibre and its product in the world market. Whereas there is encouraging news to know that in 2020 the United Nation had adopted, for the first time, a resolution in its 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on natural fibres which features the huge potential of jute fibres together with other natural fibres like Abaca, Coir, Kenaf, Sisal, Hemp and Ramie. These fibres are considered as economically viable, socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable agricultural products. The only thing is needed now is to initiate massive promotional steps, which would contribute to the achievement of the UN’s SDGs. The steps eventually pave the way for a stronger, effective and efficient “Global value Chain” for Jute and other natural fibre products.

As it is produced in our country and we are the main jute producing country, we will not have to depend on import of raw jute for running the mills. Moreover, there is a huge demand in the international market. The return of investment will be quicker than other textile industry as cost for setting up the mill is lower than other textile industry. In spite of all these advantages, the government has taken steps to close down the mills. On the other hand, in our country private jute industry is developing with promising growth and has done silent revolution. So there is no scope of branding this industry as a losing concern.

Jute is still viable in our country. It is seen that following the closure of the mills, many workers are engaging themselves in illegal activities. Society will face grave consequences due to inhuman, illogical decision of so-called decision makers. The children of the workers stopped going to schools. The housewives perhaps pass the days shedding tears seeing no sign of hopes. But those sitting at the decision making positions were not stirred up at all.  Even, the government officials were seen putting forward lame excuses in favour of the closure of the factories instead of giving viable alternatives in running the mills. It seemed that no grief has touched their heart at the sad ending of mills. Any trace of remorse did not see in the voice of the concerned persons.

There are enough reasons to believe that these unwanted situations occurred due to lack of understanding of decision makers and foreign conspiracy. We should have minimum love for our jute sector. We must realise that jute was one of the main source of foreign currency earner of the country. It is strongly believed that if jute sector is governed by techno-managerial experts and is free from corrupt and unscrupulous group, it will become the gold mine for our country. It is time to formulate a task force comprising with experts of administration, finance and technology for preparing a road map for the development of promising jute sector.

The writer is the Pro Vice Chancellor, BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology (BUFT).


Source: Sun Editorial