Jute, the Golden Fibre, carries a glorious history in the packaging sector as well as in the economy of Bangladesh. Over the years jute has been stretching its field to wide and diverse areas and thus has acquired a multi-dimensional role on consumer market despite facing strong competition from the synthetic sector.
Jute is one of the most versatile fibres known to man. Raw jute fibre is obtained from two varieties of plant: Corchorus Capsularis (White jute) and Corchorus Olitorius (Tossa jute), both native to Bangladesh.
Jute is a rain-fed crop with little need for fertilizer or pesticides. The production is concentrated in Bangladesh and some in India, mainly Bengal. The jute fibre comes from the stem and ribbon (outer skin) of the jute plant. The fibres are first extracted by retting. The retting process consists of bundling jute stems together and immersing them in low, running water. There are two types of retting: stem and ribbon. After the retting process, stripping begins. Women and children usually do this job. In the stripping process, non-fibrous matter is scraped off, then the workers dig in and grab the fibres from within the jute stem. India, Pakistan, China are the large buyers of local jute while Britain, Spain, Ivory Coast, Germany and Brazil also import raw jute from Bangladesh.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries jute was indispensable. Its uses included: sacking bag, ropes, boot linings, aprons, carpets, tents, roofing felts, satchels, linoleum backing, tarpaulins, sand bags, meat wrappers, sailcloth, scrims, tapestries, oven cloths, horse covers, cattle bedding, electric cable, even parachutes. Jute’s appeal lay in its strength, low cost, durability and versatility.
Today, jute can be defined as an eco-friendly natural fibre with versatile application prospects ranging from low value geo-textiles, hand/shopping bags to high value carpet, apparel, composites, decorative upholstery, furnishings, fancy non-woven for new products, decorative color boards, and many more such jute diversified products.
White Jute (Corchorus Capsularis)
Several historical documents during the era of Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542–1605) state that the poor villagers of India used to wear clothes made of jute. Simple handlooms and hand spinning wheels were used by the weavers, who used to spin cotton yarns as well. History also states that Indians, especially Bengalis, used ropes and twines made of white jute from ancient times for household and other uses.
Tossa Jute (Corchorus Olitorius)
Tossa jute (Corchorus olitorius) is an Afro-Arabian variety. It is quite popular for its leaves that are used as an ingredient in a mucilaginous potherb called molokhiya, popular in certain Arab countries. The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible mentions this vegetable potherb as Jew’s mallow. Tossa jute fibre is softer, silkier, and stronger than white jute. This variety astonishingly showed good sustainability in the climate of the Ganges Delta. Along with white jute, tossa jute has also been cultivated in the soil of Bengal from the start of the 19th century. Currently, Bangladesh is the largest global producer of the Tossa jute variety.
Jute needs a plain alluvial soil and standing water. The suitable climate for growing jute (warm and wet climate) is offered by the monsoon climate during the monsoon season. Temperatures ranging 20˚ C to 40˚ C and relative humidity of 70%–80% are favorable for successful cultivation. Jute requires 5–8 cm of rainfall weekly with extra needed during the sowing period.
The recent mapping of the genome of the jute seed by several Bangladeshi scientists working in collaboration has opened up a new horizon for the jute sector.
On 16 June 2010, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared that Bangladesh successfully completed the draft genome of jute. A consortium of researchers from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh Jute Research Institute and private software firm DataSoft Systems Bangladesh Ltd. in collaboration with Centre for Chemical Biology, University of Science Malaysia and University of Hawaii was involved in this project.