THE steps that the government has taken to diversify jute products and to increase the use of jute goods are reported to have failed to make any significant mark. The export of traditional jute items such as jute sacks, jute hessian cloths, jute twine or yarn, jute shopping bags, jute ropes and handicrafts fetched $816.27 million in the 2020 financial year while the figure was $1,002 million in the 2019 financial year, $1,023.07 million in the 2018 financial year and $1,071.28 million in the 2011 financial year, weaving almost a static pattern. But diversified jute products, the phrase that the government prefers to use, have hardly had any significant share in the earning from the export of jute and jute products. Jute and textile officials are, in such a situation, reported to be saying that they are working on three major industrial uses of jute — jute cotton-blended denim, jute celluloid-based biodegradable bags, which are endearingly called Sonali bags, and jute-leaf tea — that might bring about a change in the situation. Jute celluloid bags could replace the hazardous petro-chemical-polythene bags and jute-leaf tea has the potential to become popular as a healthy drink while a specialised jute textile mill that is being implemented could produce a substitute for cotton used in denim manufacturing.
While all the three jute innovations — only three innovations should not count as a fully-fledged product diversification — have the potential to make a mark on jute and jute product export, what remains worrying is that the government has employed the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation — which has proved its inefficiency in running the last remaining 25 state-owned jute mills which were closed five months ago for incurring losses year after year because of corruption, mismanagement and flawed planning — to carry out the trial production of the jute celluloid Sonali bag and the marketing of jute-leaf tea. The corporation is yet to draw up any plans for the commercial production of Sonali bags as the trial production is still hovering over 30,000 pieces a day against the target of 100,000 pieces. The corporation put in charge of the innovations is also reported to have implemented only 3 per cent of the specialised jute textile mill project, after it had begun in July 2018 for a completion by June 2021 involving Tk 5.19 billion. The project, once implemented, could help the manufacturing of denim, which helped the private apparel exporters to fetch $1.65 billion in 2018 against $1.47 billion in 2017. While the Mandatory Jute Packing Act 2010, aimed at ending the use of plastic bags in packing, has still not been effectively enforced, steps to ensure fair prices for raw jute so that farmers are interested in jute farming are yet to be done.
Experts, in such a situation, believe that the government should lay its hands off the manufacturing and marketing of jute products that would result from the research and innovations and the government should, rather, concentrate more on the innovation. The government must remember that the commercial viability of jute and jute goods has not been a forte of the Jute Mills Corporation for the past few decades.
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