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Jute on the rise

Print edition : May 05, 2006 T+T-

The jute industry is no longer a `sunset industry', thanks to the government's efforts to promote the `golden fibre'.

THE Indian jute industry, both the organised and unorganised sectors, is the world's largest producer of raw jute and jute products. It enjoys certain inherent advantages, such as availability of modern ports and excellent research and development (R&D) infrastructure for the jute crop, products to develop the jute and machinery, which enable it to produce a massive range of goods that meet customer specification.

The Jute Manufactures Development Council (JMDC), a statutory body under the Union Ministry of Textiles, is responsible for developing domestic and export markets for all types of jute products. Created by an Act of Parliament in 1983, it is chaired by the Secretary, Ministry of Textiles. The Council comprises representatives of growers, producers, exporters, workmen and experts as well as officials from different departments of the Government of India and the State governments of jute-growing regions.

In order to promote the domestic market, the JMDC ensures arrangements for better marketing and sale of jute, organises sales and exhibitions, collaborates with State and Central marketing agencies, holds seminars and workshops, facilitates human resource development through technical institutes, and runs promotional offices.

Its export market development programmes include: participation in specialised trade shows and fairs, sponsoring missions to explore markets, organising buyer-seller meets, commissioning studies related to product and market, carrying out promotional campaigns, and disseminating trade and market information to international traders. In fact, the JMDC is designated as a deemed Export Promotion Council for Jute.

In November last year, a five-member delegation led by A.K. Bal, Secretary, JMDC and Executive Director, National Centre for Jute Diversification (NCJD), visited Argentina, Chile and Peru, to tap business opportunities. The delegation identified food grade jute products, jute geotextiles, jute-based floor coverings, and jute shopping and carry bags as having a great market potential in that region. The mission enabled the JMDC to build up a database of around 1,000 potential business partners in the Latin American region.

Another major development in the jute sector was the recent decision of the Ministry of Textiles to merge the NCJD with the JMDC. The Ministry has also amended the Jute and Jute Textiles Control Order, 2000, by inserting new provisions, empowering the Jute Commissioner to fix a "reasonable price" at which any variety of raw jute may be purchased or sold areawise. In order to discourage excessive stockpiling, jute mills have been directed to intimate to the Commissioner their latest stock-holding positions and average weekly consumption of raw jute.

The JMDC and the NCJD jointly organised the 19th Industrial India Trade Fair in league with the West Bengal government and the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce & Industries last year. The participating units displayed a stunning collection of innovative jute products. For the third year in a row, the Jute Pavilion won the Award for Excellence in the category of Novelty in Visual Appeal.

The Government of India has been giving special thrust to the re-orientation of the R&D activities within the industry, with emphasis on enlarging the production base for diversified and value-added jute products. The diversification programmes aim at promoting the use of jute in producing jute handlooms and handicrafts, jute composites, decoratives and food grade products, and jute in industries through intensive R&D efforts.

The growth is evident from the rise in the number of enterprises, the geographical spread of jute-related activities, the extent of employment, and the spurt in domestic and export sales of the output. The jute industry has an average annual production of over 16,05,000 tonnes with an average export of 2,05,000 tonnes and earns about Rs.835 crores. Besides 78 composite jute mills, there are a large number of yarn and twine-producing mills and about 1,000 small and tiny enterprises producing a host of jute products.

Export of jute-diversified products (JDP) has gone up from Rs.93.4 crores in 1998-99 to Rs.257.3 crores in 2004-05, constituting 22 per cent of India's total jute goods export. Floor coverings and shopping bags together account for about 97 per cent of all lifestyle JDP exports. The U.S. is the biggest market for Indian JDP, followed by a few European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain. The government aims to increase the exports of jute and jute products to nearly Rs.5,000 crores by 2010.

The National Jute Policy, 2005, announced in April last year, seeks to increase the export of jute and jute products by achieving a compounded annual growth rate of 15 per cent per annum. The policy has been designed keeping in mind the changing global environment of integration in the development of natural fibres. It hopes to enable jute farmers to produce jute fibres of better quality for making value-added, diversified jute products, and also to enhance substantially the per hectare yield of raw jute.

An important aspect of the policy is the creation of the National Jute Board, which will subsume, merge and integrate the functions of the institutions currently operating in the jute sector. The Jute Board will act as a coordinator among the several jute-related organisations under different Union Ministries. In short, it will act as a facilitator for the industry. The government is also considering a plan to set up a National Institute of Natural Fibres and a National Jute and Jute Textile Museum.

The policy statement has emphasised the need to develop the next-generation jute machinery through comprehensive technology benchmarking (after a technology audit), evolve a five-year plan for machinery development for both the organised and decentralised sectors (and also for the cottage industry), and establish an R&D unit on the basis of public-private partnership.

Keeping in view the immense potential of jute products in the domestic market, the Ministry plans to conduct programmes to increase consumer awareness, highlighting the eco-friendly character of jute by working closely with environmental groups.

Jute has become popular all over the world, particularly because of its biodegradable character. It does not generate toxic gases when burnt. Jute also has an attractive silky lustre, high tensile strength and low extensibility. It is also heat- and fire-resistant to a certain extent. Further, it can replace several expensive fibres and forest raw materials thanks to its inexhaustible supply and low prices, thereby protecting the environment and helping maintain ecological balance.

Given the efforts undertaken by the Textile Ministry and the JMDC in promoting jute products, the term `sunset industry' can no longer be applied to the industry. It is only logical that the National Jute Policy calls for the evolution of a new commodity development strategy that focusses on positioning jute as a superior and environment-friendly material, enhances the productivity of raw jute, increases exports through innovative marketing, and betters the working conditions of those engaged in its production.