Jute scientists in Bangladesh have stated that they are working to develop a special jute variety that can replace cotton for fabric manufacturing. They will, as they have further noted, use genome sequencing of jute in developing the special varieties of the golden fiber. A recent report in the media says the local jute variety which is known for producing soft and quality fiber could be easily blended with cotton.
The potential for uses of jute was explained at a recent media briefing by a professor of microbiology at Hawaii University, who led a group of Bangladeshi scientists in sequencing the genome of local jute variety. At the news briefing, the scientists showed Sarees and fabrics for making shirts and other clothes, made of jute fiber as well as by blending jute and cotton fibers. In fact, Bangladesh scientists sequenced Tossa jute’s genome two years back and sequenced local jute variety’s genome only recently.
The snow-white variety of jute, used for producing fiber for textile industry, was otherwise prone to the fungus attack. But the scientists also genome-sequenced the fungus. This will facilitate development of the fungus-resistant snow-white jute variety and help lower the volume of cotton imports for the textile industry.
Meantime, the rise in the government’s target of jute cultivation acreage for this season, reports say, bodes well for the sector, as a whole. The increased target is attributable to the trend of gradual increase in local and international demand for the Bangladesh jute and jute-goods because of their environment-friendly traits.
Moreover, the government has a plan to raise domestic uses of jute to 25 per cent in the next 10 years from, according to the jute policy 2011, the current rate of around 13 per cent. Additionally, 25 jute mills, out of a total of 27 across the country, are now in operation.
Most importantly, the government has already approved a law intended to ensure mandatory use of jute packets in the country which, if implemented, can result in widespread rise in the domestic uses of jute.
Jute had been the principal cash crop for farmers at large for long even after independence, while jute industries that once dominated the industrial sector had provided employment to thousands of people for decades. Regrettably, however, disaster struck the jute sector, due to the wrong policies, both industrial and agriculture, as were pursued by successive governments, especially since 1980s, allegedly following prescriptions by international lending agencies.
On the one hand, the state-owned enterprises (SoEs) in the jute sector were held responsible for a huge amount of losses on a cumulative basis over the years and successive governments carried out denationalization of such SoEs which ended up in the closure of many mills.
On the other, as its inevitable adverse effect, jute cultivation declined by a huge percentage in the subsequent years. The loss mentioned earlier was because of an enormous challenge, posed by synthetic materials’ gaining popularity around the world during the period, to jute fiber.
There is, however, no denying the fact that rampant mismanagement, corruption and irregularities on the part of the state-run jute corporation, were also significantly responsible for their facing financial straits. In the process, the country has failed to tap the enormous potential of environment-friendly jute and jute goods in the international market.
When jute and jute goods are driving out plastic and synthetic products on environmental grounds, the country’s jute industry has been on the verge of decay. But most interestingly, the jute industry in India has then been thriving mainly on jute supplies from Bangladesh.
When the government of Bangladesh was privatizing or shutting down jute mills, the state government of West Bengal in India was seen taking up a gigantic project to set up new jute mills by investing Rs 100 billion. All these mills are reportedly operating now on profits. The flawed policy of, and non-cooperation by, successive governments, were mainly responsible for the dismal state of affairs in the country’s jute sector. The nationalisation of jute mills made the situation all the more tough and challenging to the sector. Most of the ‘nationalized’ jute mills went out of production for lack of jute. According to an estimate, 30 per cent of the losses in the country’s jute sector is caused by power shortage and another 30 per cent is attributed to high interest charges on bank credits. The jute sector itself is responsible only for another 30 per cent of such losses. In order to ensure a balanced jute policy, privatization of public sector mills is a sort of solution to help avoid widespread loss in the sector.
The country’s jute industries are maintaining their operations, mostly with outdated technology. This has resulted in low productivity and high material costs for production. It is time for Bangladesh to adopt a technological profile to meet the present-day techno-economic needs.
As a by-product of jute, jute geo-textiles have immense potential, both in domestic and international markets, as jute possesses much more advantages than the synthetic fibers. It is now widely used in controlling soil erosion of roadsides, riverbanks and hillsides. Bangladesh is now using jute geo-textiles for construction of its national roads. This could likewise be used in road construction to a large extent in Bangladesh. It is biodegradable and will not spoil the nutrition of soil.
On its part, the government now needs to go for snow-white jute cultivation on a large scale to save foreign currency spent on imports of cotton. The main objective of the ongoing research is to replace cotton with jute fiber. The jute researchers said that the annual demand for jute would immediately increase by 1.5 million bales for various domestic uses once the Jute Packaging Act was enforced. Using jute’s genome sequencing, it would be possible to develop jute varieties that are capable of withstanding hostile weather and diseases.
Diversified uses of jute will certainly help the revival of the jute sector. This will, in future, help also to rejuvenate the rural economy, directly and indirectly. With the golden days of jute sector now tending to reappear, the government and the private sector need to continue making their concerted efforts for increased domestic production of quality jute fiber and jute goods and also for boosting their exports.