Production has slowed in small jute mills in the northern regions of Bangladesh due to poor raw jute quality resulting from retting problems during harvest, according to market participants.
The quality of the jute deteriorated as farmers had to soak the stalks in shallow ponds or mud in the canal bed, which gives the material a hard, dark look instead of the soft, dark look. vitreous for which it is known. As a result, they do not get sufficient prizes.
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Factories in the northern districts of the country, namely Rangpur, Dinajpur, Gaibandha, Lalmonirhat and Nilphamari, mainly cater to the domestic demand for jute sacks, hessian, jute yarn and other jute products.
However, after water in local ponds and canals became scarce during the harvest period between July and August, farmers were unable to carry out retting of their plants as usual.
Retting is the process of soaking the jute stalks in water to help separate the inner fibers of the stalk.
Abu Sayed, Managing Director of Equ Jute Process Ltd in Nilphamari, said they mainly produce jute bags made from good quality raw jute, which is currently scarce in local markets.
“So we are now buying jute at a slow rate of just 700-800 maunds a day, down from 1,500-2,000 maunds a day last year,” he added.
Each maund is equal to approximately 37 kilograms. Sayed went on to say that his factory has 150 looms, of which only 100 are currently operating at full capacity due to lack of raw jute.
Md Shafiqul Islam, Managing Director of Nine Jute Mill in Rangpur, said they are now operating three days a week as high quality raw jute is rarely available while there is an abundance of low quality variety.
Borjahan Ali, Chief Inspector of Jute Department in Rangpur and Nilphamari, said traders are less interested in jute this year as only 90 licenses have been renewed out of 112 in Nilphamari and the situation is almost the same in Rangpur and other northern districts.
Bipod Kumar Kundu, a large jute trader who regularly supplies the product to exporters, usually buys at least 1 lakh maund of jute each season, but this year he bought less than 2,000 maund.
“The Russian-Ukrainian war adds another problem beside the inferior quality of jute as import orders from foreign buyers are boring,” Kundu said.
While visiting different jute markets in Rangpur, this correspondent found that most farmers are selling low quality jute which buyers are not interested in buying.
In Kathalbari haat under Kurigram sadar upazila, it has been found that poor quality jute is sold for about Tk 2,600 per maund while the same amount of slightly better quality is sold for Tk 2,800.
Tamiz Uddin, a farmer who brought several maunds of jute to the haat, said golden fiber prices ranged from Tk 3,200 to Tk 3,500 per maund last year.
“I grew jute on three bighas of land and the field was healthy but after cutting the plants there was no water in the channels for retting,” said Ektadul Haque, a trader in Shyampur. haat at Badarganj upazila of Rangpur.
“So, as their quality has become low, buyers offer prices with which I cannot manage my cost of production,” he added.
Farmers Abdul Hye and Abul Sheikh, who brought jute to Nababganj haat in Nilphamari Jaldhaka upazila, said the price for each maund of jute should be Tk 4,000 if the quality is good.
Shah Alam, Additional Director of Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in Rangpur, suggested farmers to adopt sliver retting process for jute retting.
The process includes separating the jute barks from mature plants through a special procedure, then allowing the barks to rot in a bucket or any pot with a little water to produce quality jute fiber.
However, most farmers do not want to adopt this process because it ruins the jute sticks, which can also be sold at a good price.
According to the Jute Department in Rangpur, there are 19 small jute mills spread across five northern districts, including 10 in Rangpur, 6 in Nilphamari and 1 in Gaibandha, Kurigram and Lalmonirhat. Each spinning mill has between 50 and 300 looms which normally employ 200 to 1,000 people.
Jute mills established with loans from commercial banks bring hope of reviving the past glory of jute, which began its decline after the government shut down the country’s largest spinning mill – Adamjee Jute Mills – in 2002 while than others under the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) soon followed.
By purchasing old looms and related machinery from some closed nationalized jute mills while importing others, the small mills began to operate with the unemployed workers of the closed BJMC mills. However, local labor gradually began to replace them.
And after suffering a major setback in the coronavirus pandemic, these small jute mills were hit with poor production and prices just as they were trying to recover.