Raw jute being carried to market in northwestern Bangladesh
All over rural Bangladesh, farmers are smiling. This is jute harvesting season and the crop has been plentiful. Better still, after years in the doldrums, jute is making a spectacular comeback and fully living up to its name of old: “the golden fiber.”
“The market has risen well this year. We’re getting 1,800 taka for a mon (US$ 26 for a 40 kg batch) as opposed to 1,000 or 1,200 taka last year,” says Jonas Ekka, a Catholic farmer from the northwestern Thakurgaon district.
This anecdotal evidence from Ekka and his fellow farmers is endorsed by the state-run Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation. According to its figures, combined exports of raw and manufactured jute products passed the billion dollar mark for the first time ever in the period July 2010 to May 2011.
Even allowing for inflation, this is higher than export figures from the 1940s-70s, which were considered the heyday for jute, at which time it was established the product indisputably as Bangladesh’s biggest foreign-exchange earner.
It’s all a far cry from the dark days of the late 1980s, when prices were so low that farmers were burning their crops as they could not afford to harvest them. Now they are rushing to grow them.
“The amount of jute cultivation has risen 10 percent from last year, because the jute market truly holds a hope for farmers,” says William Prokash Gomes, a Catholic official from the Jute Diversification and Promotion Center.
He believes a combination of government patronage and favorable weather have been the factors that have aided the revival. But perhaps the most important differentiator has been a sharp rise in international demand.
Jute can be used in the manufacture of a vast range of items, from paper to carpet backing and fabrics to composite wood. Like nylon and polythene, which overshadowed it for many years, it is strong and highly tensile. Unlike nylon and polythene, it is breathable and, above all, bio-degradable.
“Nowadays, people in developed countries are demanding environment-friendly products instead of synthetics,” says Gomes, “which brings us hope.”
However, Binoy Corraya, a Catholic farmer from the northern Natore district, says some unscrupulous merchants are exploiting farmers.
“Over the last few years, farmers in our area have increased cultivation because of the rising price. But getting it to market is still a problem and that’s where the farmers are often cheated,” he says.
Despite this problem, most farmers agree with Gomes when he says, “if this upward trend continues, the golden fiber will regain its lost glory."
Farmers cheer record harvest