Reviving the jute sector: Bold policy support needed

THE government’s plan to revitalise the jute industry which has been in a bad way for long has everything positive in it; for, jute can still play an important role in boosting the national economy.

To begin with, the government will make it mandatory for all public sector agencies to use jute sacks for packaging. It will substantially increase the use of jute products in the public sector. We believe the practice should already have been there, since jute is both eco-friendly and comparatively cheaper. But it appears that the use of synthetic goods worldwide influenced us also, despite Bangladesh being the leading jute producing zone for over a century. Jute has a clear edge over all its competitors when it comes to eco-friendliness, but we could neither plead its case, nor take advantage of its positive aspects.

The government is also going to announce a national jute policy in October, which will place a renewed emphasis on production of our once premier foreign exchange earner. The country’s poor performance in the jute sector has been made amply clear by the 21 percent decline in export of jute and jute goods in recent times. Moreover, out of the 160 jute and jute spinning mills, around only 100 are operating normally. So the sector needs a big boost both in terms of policy support and fiscal incentives. The government’s decision to raise the cash incentive from 7.5 percent to 10 percent is certainly a move in the right direction.

The non-availability of quality seeds has been identified as a problem. It has to be addressed with due urgency and efficiency to avoid cultivation of low quality jute. And, of course, many farmers, who have already discarded jute, need to be encouraged to grow it again as a cash crop.

The story of jute has been one of casualty by inept policymaking and poor management. The policy makers appear to have been oblivious of the fact that we had a big advantage over all other competitors as the biggest high quality jute producing country in the world. But it is a sad truth that when the industry was being streamlined in other countries, our decision makers were busy dismantling it locally.

Valuable time has been lost, but still a revamped jute industry can add value to our economy.

Source: The Daily Star, Editorial, 19 May 2009


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