Jute-made products are turning heads at the Dhaka International Trade Fair (DITF). Pavilions showcasing them are attracting people, from the young to the old, with their colourful designs and diversity.

The array of products includes bags, purses, folders, tablemats, prayer mats, doormats, rugs, and room dividers, among others.

The huge, albeit unanticipated, number of visitors at the jute goods stalls is widening smiles on the faces of the vendors who say they expect buoyant sales this year.

Local brands have filled their stores with as many products with different designs and colours as possible to grab the windfall.

Md Ashequr Rahman Rumel, coordinator of Karupannya, a local company, says they are making between 300 and 400 products from jute and many of them can be bought at the fair.

Customers, mostly the young, appear to be more interested in jute-made products, says Abdur Rahim, a sales executive of at Cotton Tex stall.

'The jute rush'

Jute Diversification Promotion Centre (JDPC), under the Ministry of Textiles and Jute, has installed a mega pavilion. Istiaque Ahmed, JPDC centre-in-charge, says most of the 25 stalls are showcasing jute goods from around the country.

Kazi Kamrul Karim, manager (marketing) of Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC), told UNB: "We're trying to spread environment-friendly products at home and abroad. These products are attracting a large number of buyers."

Two particular products - 'Sonali Bag' and 'Jute-Tin' - are standing out of the crowd in the fair. Karim says the government is planning to launch 'Sonali Bag', a biopolymer made from jute, in the local market this year as a suitable alternative to polythene bags.

The jute goods are exuding great response from the visitors.

Khadiza Rahman, who came from Keraniganj, is one of those impressed by the products and their quality. "I'm surprised to see such beautiful products made from jute," she says. "If all of us shun plastic goods and use environment-friendly products, then we can save our environment. We should buy more jute made goods."

'Revival of the golden fiber'

The data provided by Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) shows that Bangladesh exported jute and jute products worth $421 million in the first half (July-Dec) of the 2018-19 financial year.

Jute, the country's third largest forex earner, is estimated to involve around 10 million people. The country produces around 1.45 million tonnes of raw jute annually.

New products from jute and a global campaign against plastic have rekindled the hope of a comeback for the 'golden fiber'. People are optimistic that jute will solve the plastic problem -- at least to some extent.

The period between 1972 and 1975 was the golden era of jute, says Dr Md Monjurul Alam, director general of Bangladesh Jute Research Institute.

"Jute was pushed to the sideline by polythene and plastic goods," he says. "The government did not take initiatives to help the sector and instead shut down mills."

It was not until after 1996 that the government took steps to diversify jute products and started opening new mills. Bangladesh enacted the Mandatory Jute Packaging Act 2010, enforced in January 2014, making the use of jute packaging compulsory for 19 types of products.

The government initiatives have encouraged entrepreneurs to come up with diversified jute products. Currently, Bangladesh is also exporting 'Patpata Paio' made from jute's leaf (an alternative to tea) to Germany. It will be available in the local market very soon, BJMC's Karim says.

"Campaign against plastic is continuing across the world. Bangladesh must take advantage of these eco-friendly consumer trends in the global market," Monjurul says.

BJMC Scientific Advisor Dr Mubarak Ahmad Khan, who led the invention of 'Sonali Bag' and 'Jute-Tin', concurred. "It's an opportunity for Bangladesh to grab global markets," he says.

Mubarak lamented the lack of funding. "I can increase the production volume if I've adequate funding. We can earn a huge sum of foreign currency," he says.

His 'Sonali Bag' is completely biodegradable and does not contain any plastic particles. On top of that, it is recyclable. The 'Jute-Tin', on the other hand, is extremely strong and can withstand hailstorms. "It'll last for over 100 years," he claims.

"The prices of the products will come down if the government subsidises them. This will encourage people to buy them instead of plastic goods," the scientist says.

"A golden era of jute is knocking on the door of Bangladesh," BJMC's Kamrul says.

It just needs a little push, he adds.

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