Do you see the above picture and what does it says? Well, it says- “Say Yes To Jute”. In other words, it conveys that this jute bag wants to be used as it is eco-friendly, light, stylish and non-polluting for the environment. But, unfortunately despite the fact that awareness is spreading, that jute and cloth bags are the best, people still continue to use plastic bags, which harms the environment. The jute sector is facing a lot of stiff competition from the synthetic materials sector in India due to preference of synthetic products over jute.
Before we discuss why the jute sector is dying, firstly I will give you a brief account on the golden fibre- Jute.
Jute is a long, soft and a shiny vegetable fibre that can be spun into coarse and strong threads. It is produced from plants in the genus Corchorus, that is the genus of plants which are tall and green, found in tropical and subtropical regions. Jute is one of the most affordable natural fibres and is second only to cotton in amount produced and variety of uses of vegetable fibres.Jute fibres are composed primarily 2 plant materials- cellulose and lignin. The industrial term for jute fibre is called raw jute. The fibres ranges from off-white to brown and about 1–5 metres long. Jute henceforth, is called “The Golden Fibre” for its color and high cash value.
Cultivation is dependent on the climate, season, and soil. Almost 85% of the world’s jute cultivation is concentrated in the Ganges Delta. This fertile geographic region is shared by both Bangladesh and India. China also has a dominating place in jute cultivation. On a smaller scale, Thailand, Myanmar, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Nepal, and Bhutan also cultivate jute. India is the largest producer and consumer of jute while Bangladesh is the largest exporter of jute due to its high shares while China, which occupies the 3rd position, they have the highest yield of jute fiber in the world due to its modern effective agriculture. This cash crop is mainly used for making coarse cloth, bags, cosmetics, medicines, sacks and other decorative items.
To grow jute, farmers scatter the seeds on cultivated soil. When the plants are about 15–20 cm tall, they are thinned out. About four months after planting, harvesting begins. The plants are usually harvested after they flower, before the flowers go to seed. The stalks are cut off close to the ground. The stalks are tied into bundles and soaked in water(retting) for about 20 days which softens the tissues of the jute plant.
The fibres are then stripped from the stalks in long strands and washed in clear, running water. Then they are hung up or spread on thatched roofs to dry. After 2–3 days of drying, the fibres are tied into bundles. The suitable climate for growing jute is a warm and wet climate, which is offered by the monsoon climate during the fall season, immediately followed by summer. Temperatures ranging from 30-45 degrees celsius and relative humidity of 70%–80% are favorable for successful cultivation. Jute requires 2–3 inches of rainfall weekly with extra needed during the sowing period.
In India, since jute is produced only in the eastern parts of the country, therefore, the total cropped area accounts for only 0.5% in the country. In Bangladesh and China, total cropped area accounts for 95% and 55% respectively. Yet, India is the largest producer of jute because of its high technological advancements in agriculture in the recent years. It is the most environment-friendly fibre starting from the seed to the expired fibre, as the expired fibres can be recycled more than once.
There are many advantages of jute, which makes it one of the most important cash crops to be produced. Here are some few merit points given below:-
- Jute fiber is 100% biodegradable and recyclable and thus it is environmentally friendly.
- Jute has low pesticide and fertilizer needs.
- It is a natural fibre with golden and silky shine and hence it is called The Golden Fibre.
- It is the cheapest vegetable fibre procured from the bast or skin of the plant’s stem.
- It is the second most important vegetable fibre after cotton, in terms of usage, global consumption, production, and availability.
- It has high tensile strength, low extensibility, and ensures better breathability of fabrics. Therefore, jute is very suitable in agricultural commodity bulk packaging.
- It helps to make best quality industrial yarn, fabric, net, and sacks. It is one of the most versatile natural fibres that has been used in raw materials for packaging, textiles, non-textile, construction, and agricultural sectors. Bulking of yarn results in a reduced breaking tenacity and an increased breaking extensibility when blended as a ternary blend.
- It has good insulating properties, as well as having low thermal conductivity and a moderate moisture regain.
- Jute has the ability to be blended with other fibers, both synthetic and natural, and accepts cellulosic dye classes such as natural, basic, sulphur, reactive and pigment dyes.
- As the demand for natural comfort fibers increases, the demand for jute and other natural fibers that can be blended with cotton will increase.
However, there are a few disadvantages of jute:-
- It has poor drapability and crease resistance, brittleness, fiber shedding, and yellowing in sunlight.
- Preparation of fabrics with castor oil lubricants result in less yellowing and less fabric weight loss, as well as increased dyeing brilliance.
- Jute has a decreased strength when wet, and also becomes subject to microbial attack in humid climates.
Despite the fact that jute is one of the most important cash crop cultivated in the low-lying areas of South and East Asia, the jute sector is facing frequent losses and there is a fear that these industries will have to start buying imported and synthetic jute from advanced countries.
In India, the ever rising inflation, low labour productivity and the cut-throat competition from synthetic products are the major reasons that many jute mills are being closed down. Hence, the golden fibre is not flourishing smoothly as it was since the last 3-4 decades. In order to tackle the rising labour cost and prevent blocking the capital, the management of mills often call for temporary suspension of operations or cut back on daily shift hours. These measures have resulted in much acrimony as reduced shift time means lesser pay, which in turn leads to management-worker tussles.
To provide some help to the ailing sector, the Union government in 1987 rolled out the Jute Procurement Act of 1987, which ensured a market for jute products by making jute bags mandatory for transporting food grain and sugar. Experts on the industry as well as officials from the Union government feel that while the Act provided a safe cushion for the industry, it made modernisation difficult. One of the major hurdles behind the modernisation attempts is the ownership pattern.
When the union and the state government announced a package for the modernisation of the industry in the 1980s, most of the mills could not utilize those funds because they were being run by leaseholders, and often by sub-leaseholders, and not by the owners. The real blow came during the financial year 2012-13, when the Union government diluted the Act by limiting usage of jute bags.
Indian Jute Mills Association(IJMA) president Sanjay Kajaria said that jute needs a political solution immediately. The state and Centre need to set differences aside and discuss to find a solution to prevent tension among workers and the management of all jute mills. Indian Jute Mills Association(IJMA) vice-president N.G Khaitan has reiterated that the jute sector needs a boost and for that, the new NDA government has to give more emphasis on the ailing sector in the union budget starting next month in the Parliament. His views are the following points given below:-
- Need to improve and increase labour productivity.
- Need to create markets and usages.
- Revival of export markets.
- Creating a market for value-added products.
Hence, I would conclude my topic and say that if the above points are satisfied, then the jute sector will come alive and will start producing high-quality jute in bulk. Once again, we would see beautiful jute products being sold in the markets like hot cakes at cheap rates like we have all seen 3-4 decades back. It would be a proud feeling for all of us by producing our own jute rather than selling imported synthetic jute at a high price to the customers. Let us hope that the jute sector revives well and show other countries that we are self-reliant and self-sufficient.