India is the world's biggest jute producer, followed by Bangladesh.
The jute industry in India is 150 years old. There are about 70 jute mills in the country, of which about 60 are in West Bengal along both the banks of river Hooghly. Jute is the only crop where earnings begin to trickle in way before the final harvest. The seeds are planted between April and May and harvested between July and August.
Jute production is a labour intensive industry. It employs about two lakh workers in the West Bengal alone and 4 lakh workers across the country.
The leaves can be sold in vegetable markets for nearly two months of the four-month jute crop cycle. The tall, hardy grass shoots up to 2.5 metres and each part of it has several uses.
The outer layer of the stem produces the fibre that goes into making jute products. But the leaves can be cooked, the inner woody stems can be used to manufacture paper and the roots, which are left in the ground after harvest, improve the yield of subsequent crops.
Compared to rice, jute requires very little water and fertiliser. It is largely pest-resistant, and its rapid growth spurt ensures that weeds don’t stand a chance.
Jute is the second most abundant natural fibre in the world. It has high tensile strength, acoustic and thermal insulation, breathability, low extensibility, ease of blending with both synthetic and natural fibres, and antistatic properties.
Jute can be used: for insulation (replacing glass wool), geotextiles, activated carbon powder, wall coverings, flooring, garments, rugs, ropes, gunny bags, handicrafts, curtains, carpet backings, paper, sandals, carry bags, and furniture.
A ‘Golden Fibre Revolution’ has long been called for by various committees, but the jute industry is in dire need of basic reforms.
Two major problems of the industry are obsolete processing technology, and the lack of product diversification.
In order to help the jute industry, the government on Thursday decided that 100% food grains and 20% sugar will be mandatorily packaged in jute bags.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said, "It will benefit about 4 lakh workers engaged in the jute sector along with thousands of farmers."
Jute is primarily grown in West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Andhra Pradesh.