New Delhi, July 13 (IANS): Lack of modernisation and diversification has stunted the growth of India's jute industry and both India and Bangladesh, world leaders in jute production, need to double their output to supply enough shopping bags to the world to meet the growing demand for green products, Jute Commissioner of India Subrata Gupta said.
However, he said, the industry needs more investment and modernisation just to stay afloat.
"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," Gupta told IANS in an interview.
Around 95 percent of the world's jute is grown in India and Bangladesh but the turnover of the sector is small compared to cotton and the synthetic fibres. The jute industry, that once paved the way for industrialisation in West Bengal, is facing a lot of challenges of survival.
"The investment in this sector has remained rather modest," he added.
However, he said, 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.
Gupta referred to the growing worldwide demand for green products. To tap this demand, India and Bangladesh need to double their production, just to supply enough shopping bags to the world, he said.
"The jute producers need to grab this opportunity and tap the market available worldwide. The few mills that have gone in for diversification have been able to consistently export a large number of shopping bags to foreign markets," Gupta told IANS.
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 subsidising modernization of jute mills.
"A sequel to the Jute Technology Mission is on the anvil," Gupta said.
"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," he said.
Out of these 89 mills, 63 are located in West Bengal.
Regarding the future of the industry and role that could be played by jute geo-textiles, he said: "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.
"We have so far demonstrated use of jute geo textiles in more than 150 field applications across the country," said Gupta.
To partially offset the declining market of these conventional products of jute, Gupta said, new products have been developed which entail bulk use of jute. These new, alternative and non-traditional products made of jute are collectively called Jute Diversified Products.
"We are also about to begin pilot scale trial of enzyme-based retting of jute in collaboration with Novozymes, the world leader in industrial enzymes. The laboratory scale trial last year provided encouraging results. If this is successful, it could revolutionize the way jute is produced in the country."