Golden fiber brings hope to Bangladesh farmers

Ambia Khatun, a widowed mother of two, spent the entire day plucking jute. But as the sun began to sink she finally called her son and daughter to help her clean the raw fiber and spread it out to dry near their home. Once dry, she will take the jute to a nearby market to sell, buy essential provisions and save the rest of the money.

"We are getting good prices this year," the 45-year-old said, adding that 40 kgs of jute -- popularly known as "golden fiber" -- are going for twice what they did a year ago.

Jute is a natural fiber with golden and silky shine. It is an extremely versatile vegetable fiber known for its strength and durability. It is derived from a relative of the hemp plant and its golden sheen gave jute the nickname "The Golden Fiber". Jute fiber is 100% bio-degradable and recyclable and thus environmentally friendly.

Jute is a rain-fed crop with little need of fertilizer or pesticides. One hectare of Jute plants consumes over 15 tons of harmful CO2, several times more than trees. Fabrics made of jute fibers are carbon-dioxide neutral and naturally Jute productsdecomposable. It is an extremely eco-friendly textile (at left: a variety of goods made from jute). Its UV protection, sound and heat insulation, low thermal conduction and anti-static properties make it a wise choice in home decor. These properties are also why jute can be used in high performance technical textiles such as Silky textile. The jute fibers can be recycled more than once. Other uses of just include soil erosion control, seed protection, weed control, and many other agricultural and landscaping uses. Jute is also said to make the land more fertile.

Jute (Burlap, Hessian) is mainly farmed in the valleys of Bangladesh and India. The highest quality Jutes are grown in the Jat Area, which is located in Bangladesh. Therefore, Bangladesh is able to supply the highest quality jute fiber in the world. There are more lands to cultivate Jute in West Bengal, India than Bangladesh; however India’s internal demand of Jute is huge. So Bangladesh's share in export of Jute is more than 70%, which makes Bangladesh the largest exporter of jute fiber in the world. (Right: golden Jute of Bangladesh)

Once Bangladesh's top export, jute -- also used for making ropes, sacks and packaging -- lost its traditional luster over the past couple of decades amid the rise of cheaper synthetics. As exports plunged, Bangladeshi jute mills suffered huge losses, forcing authorities to shut down many factories, throwing thousands of workers out of jobs.

Among them was Asia's biggest jute mill (left), the Adamjee Jute Mills, located at Narayanganj, an industrial town 18 km (12 miles) from Dhaka. Authorities laid off its more than 16,000 workers by paying one-off compensation and overdue wages, but most of those workers are still jobless, struggling for survival and battling grinding poverty.


Now with the emphasis on conservation and reducing one's carbon footprint, Jute is seeing a
broad international renaissance for use in shopping bags (right) to replace polythene, non-biodegradable bags, which are harmful to the environment.

Polythene bags, with roughly 1 million used each day in Bangladesh alone, choke drains, canals and even small rivers, polluting them beyond use. One example is the Buriganga near Dhaka, with heaps of abandoned polythene bags bobbing in its timid flow.

Bangladesh has banned the use of polythene bags and ordered they be replaced by jute bags but the rule is often violated by both dishonest traders as well as the customers.

By contrast, jute, Bangladesh's second main crop after rice, grows in the monsoon, fed by rain. It is strong enough to stand out in the rush of water that often floods all or much of the country and becomes a source of cash for farmers hoping to ease their grinding poverty.

"Higher price and better yield have encouraged many villagers to increase cultivation of jute," said Mujibur Rahman, a 67-year-old farmer. "Besides cash, it gives them an option to use dried jute plants for cooking and putting up fences in their homes."

LOST CROP REVIVES

The present government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has reopened 10 jute mills since taking
office in early 2009 and hopes to pull up the shutters on a few more mills still closed as the demand for jute and jute goods continues to rise.

Although many old workers have been re-employed, such a fate does not await those at Adamjee, where the jute mill buildings were demolished and the land sold off.

Overall, though, the jute industry is now in good shape and looking to a brighter future, officials in the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (
BJMC) said.

Export earnings from jute and jute goods reached $1.2 billion in the fiscal year ended in June, 2011, up more than 160 percent from three years ago, a senior BJMC official said. Exports have also shown a steady rise. The country made $417 million from sale of raw jute and jute goods in the fiscal 2008/09 and $787 million in fiscal 2009/10, the official said.

"We have set an export target for jute of $1.34 billion in the year to June 2012," said Jalal Ahmed, chief executive officer of the state-run Bangladesh Export Promotion Bureau.

"The prospects for jute are becoming brighter day by day as many countries now are determined
to stop the use of polythene and instead focus on the use of environment friendly natural fiber."

Jalal said Bangladesh exports 80 percent of the total global demand for jute and ranks second to India among world's jute producing countries.

Bangladesh mainly exports jute and jute goods to Turkey and India, as well as some European and African nations. Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia also import jute and jute goods in small quantities.

Farmers in Bangladesh are pleased at the revival of demand for a lost crop and the growth of a second line of income, after rice. "We are happy as the price is higher than production cost," said Mohammad Salahuddin, a farmer in the east of the country.


Source:
Reuters,"Golden fiber brings hope to Bangladesh farmers",accessed September 21, 2011
Amerigreenbag, "What is jute-burlap?", accessed September 21, 2011

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