The world's nearly 95 percent of jute is grown in India and Bangladesh but the turnover of this sector is small compared to cotton and the synthetic fibres. The jute industry, that once paved the way for industrialization in West Bengal, is facing a lot of challenges of survival.
According to Jute Commissioner of India Subrata Gupta, lack of modernization and diversification is holding back the growth of India's jute industry. The industry needs more investment and modernization just to stay afloat. But, there is little interest in development of technology for jute processing. There are only a few manufacturers of jute machinery and they too invest very little in development of new machinery.
Most machines in use today in the jute mills in the country are copies of machines of the 1950s and 1960s vintage. There are a few machines of recent designs and even those few have hardly been installed in jute mills. The investment in this sector has remained rather modest.
However, the government has adopted a multi-pronged approach to support the golden fibre sector. It is trying to protect the market for jute products through the implementation of the Jute Packaging Act of 1987, which makes it mandatory to pack certain portion of different commodities in jute packaging materials.
Currently, it is mandatory to package a minimum of 90 percent of food grains and a minimum of 20 percent of sugar in jute sacking.
Today, there is a growing worldwide demand for green products. The jute producers need to grab this opportunity and tap the market available worldwide. To tap this demand, India and Bangladesh need to double their production to supply enough shopping bags to the world. The few mills that have gone in for diversification have been able to consistently export a large number of shopping bags to foreign markets.
A 2010 study by World Economic Forum observed that 95 percent of the consumers' worldwide want to go green.
The Indian government had launched the Jute Technology Mission during the 11th Plan period (2007-2011) with a total outlay of Rs.355.55 crore for the overall development of the jute sector. It had several components, including those to support research and development in the jute sector and subsidizing modernization of jute mills.
A sequel to the Jute Technology Mission is on the anvil, said Gupta.
Regarding the future of the industry and role that could be played by jute geo-textiles, this is one of the most promising areas of use of jute. Jute geo-textiles are innovative natural engineering products which can replace man-made (synthetic) geotextiles in a variety of civil engineering applications.
The textiles ministry has taken several decisions to introduce jute geo-textiles in civil engineering works across the country in view of their eco-friendliness and bio-degradability. The materials, which have been designed and manufactured to address a host of soil-related problems, find applications in road constructions, river bank protection, slope management and even in construction of railway tracks.
They have so far demonstrated use of jute geo textiles in more than 150 field applications across the country.
Also a new product have been developed which requires bulk use of jute. These new, alternative and non-traditional products made of jute are collectively called Jute Diversified Products.
A pilot scale trial of enzyme-based retting of jute in collaboration with Novozymes, the world leader in industrial enzymes will soon begin. The laboratory scale trial last year provided encouraging results. If this is successful, it could revolutionize the way jute is produced in the country and help to partially neutralize the declining market of conventional products of jute.
Presently there are 89 composite jute mills operating in the country. Of these, about 10 mills are closed. It is common in the industry for mills to suspend operations from time to time to adjust production and also due to industrial relations issues. Out of these 89 mills, 63 are located in West Bengal.
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