Good days coming for jute

The government’s initiative to bring back the past glory of jute has started yielding results as the demand for the golden fibre has increased at home and abroad. Data with the government show the country’s export earnings from jute and jute goods have been increasing for the last several months because of rising global demand for jute as an eco-friendly product.

The present government has embarked on a major scheme to popularise the golden fibre. World Bank former lead economist Dr Zahid Hussain told Bangladesh Post, “Jute is turning out to be an important natural and environment-friendly raw material for multifarious use.” “Though its demand is increasing at home and abroad against the backdrop of the global awareness about ‘green’ solutions, the export earnings from this sector has not registered expected progress,” he said.

The economist suggests giving some fiscal support to the sector and encouraging product and market diversification, use of modern technology and ensuring quality of products. The export of jute and jute-made goods witnessed a growth of 20.82 percent in the first seven months of this fiscal (July-January in FY20) over $498.66 million in the same period of the previous year.

The export earnings from jute and jute goods during the July-January (FY20) were $602.49 million, according to Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data. The export target of jute and jute goods in the current fiscal year has been set at $824 million. Entrepreneurs of this sector said they are producing multiple products in the jute sector through research and those are being exported abroad.

Although the production cost has risen reducing the rate of profit, the prices of jute goods are not increasing in the international market, he added. The Textiles and Jute Secretary Lokman Hossain Mia said the demand for jute goods is growing among the Western countries since they have become much more aware about using natural fibre.

“Considering this demand, Bangladesh is producing newer jute products with different dimensions, and side by side steps have been taken to make effective branding of local jute products in the international market. For this, the export and jute-made goods are gradually increasing,” he added.

The secretary informed that for ensuring product diversification, modern machinery and equipment are being added to the state-owned jute mills while cash incentives and policy support are also being provided to the private sector entrepreneurs for ensuring product diversification.

The problems faced by the sector should be properly detected and measures taken for its development, he said adding that the government will expand the research works. He expects the export earnings will rise further in the coming days. In the early 20th century, jute was the main source of foreign earnings in East Bengal as it was the only exportable product in the country during the time.

After the partition of India in 1947, there had been a significant change in the jute business. In the 1950s, the industry began its journey in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, with the establishment of jute mills in Narayanganj and Khulna. With the gradual expansion of jute cultivation, the industry contributed immensely to the field of employment. By the late 60s, a total of 67 jute mills were set up as the business turned very profitable.

After independence, all the jute mills were nationalised and brought under the BJMC, which was established on March 26, 1972, through a presidential order. In the first four years of independence, more than 80 percent of the country’s total foreign currency earnings came from jute and jute products, according to the BJMC's 2016-17 annual report.

Thus the golden fibre was the biggest foreign currency earner then. However, the jute started losing its prominence over the course of time as use of polythene and other synthetic materials took over the market as an alternative to jute, resulting in closure of many jute mills, including the country’s largest Adamjee jute mills.

The jute output reached about 54 lakh bales in 1972-1973 fiscal. Since then it started to experience ups and downs. And things became worse when the acreage came down to two lakh hectares by the late 2000s with the output at 45 lakh bales. Apart from the introduction of polythene, irregularities and corruption put the industry in dire straits. Then it was thought that the fibre’s golden days had come to an end.

But now, the golden fibre has begun to get back its lost glory as the country is witnessing record production levels, thanks to many initiatives taken by the incumbent government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to revitalise the sector.