Jute goods diversification brings little yields in Bangladesh

Shakhawat Hossain     | Published: 23:52, Nov 23,2020 | Updated: 00:04, Nov 24,2020


The government has taken many steps to increase the use of jute goods and diversified jute-based products but those yielded little success.

Jute and textile ministry officials said that they were now working on three major novel industrial uses of jute — jute-cotton-blended denim, jute-celluloid-based biodegradable poly bags and jute-leaf tea.

Experts said that private entrepreneurs, instead of state agencies, should be engaged in the manufacturing and marketing of new and innovative products since the commercial viability of those was very crucial for the future of the country’s jute sector.

The government has appointed loss-making Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation to carry out the trial production of the much-hyped jute-celluloid Sonali Bag and the marketing of jute-leaf tea.

Both the inventions have received huge responses at home and abroad amid a campaign that jute-celluloid bag developed by scientist Mobarak Hosain would replace hazardous petro-chemical-polythene bags and jute-leaf tea innovated by Ismail Khan would earn popularity as a healthy drink.

But the initial success of jute-leaf tea fizzled out as Germany stopped importing the item just before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, said BJMC chairman Abdur Rauf while talking to New Age on November 16 at his office.

The prospect of the item looked bright after the more-than-a-century-old University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart imported the item and marketed it in attractive packaging on the European market.

The BJMC chairman said that they were yet to draw any plan for the commercial production of Sonali Bag as the trial production could not reach the target of making 1,00,000 pieces daily in place of the current production of 30,000 pieces. 

Mobarak Hosain and Ismail Khan expressed dismay over the BJMC performance alleging that their inventions were not getting due attention from the state entity that incurred Tk 10,674 crore losses until the 2018–19 fiscal year since 1972.

The BJMC could implement only 3 per cent of the Sheikh Hasina Specialised Jute Textile Mill project after it was started in July 2018 and is scheduled to be completed in June 2021 at a cost Tk 519 crore.

The mill is expected to substitute cotton import for manufacturing denim that helped private RMG exporters fetching $1.65 billion in 2018 in place of $1.47 billion in 2017.

The implementation of the Mandatory Jute Packaging Act of 2010 to replace plastic bags at the local level and ensure fair price of raw jute to keep the growers satisfied is yet to be done. 

Besides, Bangladesh’s 25 state-owned jute mills were closed down five months ago while at least 10 government jute mills are operating in India, which, industry experts said, might impact the country’s domestic and international markets in the near future.

Mobarak said on Sunday that the government could start the commercial production of Sonali Bag or allow suitable private investors to do so.

The current production cost of each 10-gram bag, Tk 7, could be halved during the commercial production, he said, hoping that the projected price for a bio-degradable polybag would be globally accepted.  

BJMC insiders said that because of the non-settlement of the product patent right and resource constraints were delaying the preparations for the commercial production by them.

They also said that the BJMC was preparing a project proposal to grow jute-tea leaf with the expiry of the current deal on marketing the item.

But the BJMC has no right to run a project on any invention without the consent of its inventors, said Ismail.

He said that he would soon seek expressions of interest from private firms to market jute-tea leaf on the international market.

The export earnings from jute and jute goods in the July-August period of the current 2020-21 fiscal  year surged by 49.64 per cent to $195.39 million from $130.57 million in the same period of 2019-20.

Centre for Policy Dialogue research director Moazzem Hossain said that the contribution of diversified products was very low in the overall jute and jute goods exports.

He said that traditional products still dominated the local market and the export basket that warranted changes.

The private sector is better informed than bureaucrats of the demand from and the taste of local and international buyers.

Delowar Hossain, owner of the Jute Fibres BD that maintains a trading house of jute-based goods, said that the so-called diversified jute goods promoted by the Jute Diversification Promotion Centre needed improvement.

Both local and foreign buyers are choosy, he said.

Exports of traditional jute items like jute sacks, jute hessian cloth, jute twine or jute yarn, jute shopping bags, rope, and handicrafts fetched $816.27 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The figure was $1,002 million in 2018-19, $1,023.07 million in 2017-18 and $1,071.28 million in 2010-11.

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