The Financial Express

Looking forward to jute's revival

Looking forward to jute's revival

It's saddening to note that acute shortage of water this year has forced jute farmers in Bangladesh to go for jute retting in artificial water bodies. Compared to the earlier picture of rural women peeling jute out of the retted, or rotten, jute sticks on the banks of rivers, canals or 'beels', the present spectacles appear surreal --- or the ones from a book of fantasised farm activities. These are the pictures that have filled the country's rural landscape. Despite being a river and canal-filled country, there are many areas in Bangladesh far from rivers or natural water centres. In other years, being far from rivers wouldn't cause trouble to the jute farmers. In the post-flood, near-drought time this year, many farmers in the dry areas, without even derelict ponds, have raised fundsto bring water from far-away areas by using irrigation pumps run by diesel. The task isn't easy or smooth. It has become difficult for the poorer farmers to join these collective efforts undertaken by the desperate ones. In reality, proper and traditional jute-retting has lately emerged as an acute problem in the county due to the drying of rivers and canals on a mass scale.

 According to experts dealing with the fabled 'golden fibre', farmers turning to artificialsoaking('Jaag' in Bangla) of green jute stalks cannot expect to get quality fibre. Thanks to their low quality, the market value of this jute remains low. Millers show reluctance to buy this type of artificially retted jute. The ironical aspect of the matter is when the demand for jute is expected to soar in the world market dependent on biodegradable raw materials, the jute from Bangladesh is globally found on the back burner. Many long-time users of this high-quality natural fibre give in to the aggressive marketing of the rival jute producing countries. Apart from fancy bags, showpieces and tidbits, many developed countries have these days started mulling producing jute-made heavier household objects. Those are made of biodegradable plastic innovated by researchers dealing with the scores of aspects of jute.

To the woes of Bangladesh, once the world's largest jute producer, many highly industrialised countries are ignorant about the country's resumption of jute cultivation. According to global jute market watchers, Bangladesh can regain its export channels without much gruelling efforts.  Options are open before it. What they need most to put stress on is the mechanism of an all-out economic diplomacy.  

Since the full-scale resumption of jute cultivation across the country, a lot of farmers turned to this crop. The return to jute occurred around two decades ago. The elderly people knew that it was the bygone days' cash crop of the country. With jute famers retuning to its cultivation, the prospects for a bumper production prompted many of them to concentrate on jute. Those were the times, when the substance called polythene, a byproduct of plastic, began dominating the world. Polythene-made objects of everyday use began appearing on the factories' assembly lines. Despite the environmentalists' activism in favour of the use of jute products, the general people over the world remained stuck to jute.

To the disappointment of the jute farmers in Bangladesh, its jute fields have continued to turn barren. Despite showing farmers the propitious signs displayed by jute's return, they couldn't be held sticking to the re-emerged crop for long. In Bangladesh, the exporters of jute goods felt disillusioned in the face of stiff competition from the handy but better-finished plastic goods. Even jute goods from the other countries appeared to be outshining the Bangladesh products.

To speak forthrightly, the coming era of reappearance of jute with its former glory remained in Bangladesh a sheer myth. The farmers, in most of its sectors, failed to get the due price for their jute. The fair price of the product promised to them by government agencies remained elusive. Jute in its new phase has hardly received its due importance as an industrial raw material. That the vast numbers of jute growers would be vulnerable to getting weaned away by other farm sectors proved a foregone conclusion. To the chagrin of the promoters of jute, the whole thing did prove true, uncannily though. As days go by, this harsh reality kept getting sterner than before.  Despite the occasional uproar over the rise of a new era in the log-lost agrosector of jute, it has yet to materialise in the real sense.

 Against the backdrop of the waning demand of jute in the average developed countries, jute might find itself being relegated to a weak competitor of future biodegradable fibres. A heartbreaking development lies there. Still, lots of environmentally conscious people around the world demonstrate their hope against hope. They have firm belief that jute is unique and unparalleled. They believe the centuries-old fibre's march is all set to begin in a decade, and, that, too, from Bangladesh. In a post-modern conquest, the hurdles facing jute might no longer stand as any major obstacle to a perfectly green world. Disillusioned, the farmers in jute-growing countries like Bangladesh began turning away from the crop as an agent of change in the basic spheres of healthy survival.   With the new conditions favouring Bangladesh, the global focus is expected to shift towards the country once again.


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