History of Jute

The History of Jute

Jute is known as the Golden fiber of Bangladesh. It is a natural fiber comprised with silky and golden shine. It is one of the most cheapest and economical vegetable fiber after cotton, obtained from the skin or bast of plant’s stem. Recyclable, 100% bio degradable and eco-friendly jute has low extensibility and high tensile strength. Jute is the versatile natural fiber widely used as a raw material in many textile, nonwoven textile, packaging, construction and agricultural applications.

Ancient period Jute

During the era of great Mughal emperor Akbar, poor villagers of India were used to wear jute clothes. Since ancient times, ropes and twines, used by Bengali Indians are made up of white jute for varied household applications. Also, Chinese paper makers have used all forms of plants like jute, hemp, cotton to make paper.

Time period from 17th century

From the 17th century to the middle of 20th century, the British empire authority was delegated by the British East India company which was the first jute trader. The raw jute was traded by this company. During the start of 20th century, Margaret Donnelly I was a jute mill landowner in Dundee who had set up first jute mill in India. The first consignment of Jute was exported by East India Company in the year 1793. In the country, Scotland, flax spinners were trying to learn whether jute can be mechanically processed. In the beginning of year 1830, Dundee spinners have determined spinning of Jute yarn by transfiguring their power driven flax machinery. This leads to increase in the export and production of raw jute from Indian sub-continent which was the single supplier of jute.

Time period from year 1855

The major jute growing areas were mainly in Bengal at the Kolkata side. When Mr. George Acland had brought jute spinning machinery from Dundee to India, the first power driven weaving factory was established at Rishra, on the River Hooghly near Calcutta in year 1855. By the year 1869, five mills were established with around 950 looms. The growth was so fast that, by the year 1910, 38 companies were operating around 30,685 looms, rendering more than a billion yards of cloth and over 450 million bags. Till the middle of year 1880, jute industry has acquired almost whole Dundee and Calcutta. Later in 19th century, manufacturing of jute has started in other countries also like in France, America, Italy, Austria, Russia, Belgium and Germany.

Time period from 19th century till 1947

Outstanding expansion in jute industry has been noticed in the 19th century. Through out the year 1939, around 68,377 looms were established on the River Hooghly near Calcutta. The prime commodities woven by jute are coarse bagging materials, produced by finer fabrics also known as hessian or burlap. The hand looms established in Calcutta, give this place world class leadership in burlap and other bagging materials.

Adamjee Jute Mills Located in Narayanganj, Bangladesh 1957

Time period after the year 1947

After getting Independence, most of the Jute barons had started to quit India, leaving the set up of jute mills. Most of them were taken by Marwaris businessmen. During the year 1947, after the partitioning, East Pakistan had the finest stock of jute. The tension had already begun between India and Pakistan, now Pakistani people felt the need of jute industry. From then onwards, different groups of Pakistani families have joined the jute business by establishing many mills in Narayanganj. The Pakistani were in general, Bawanis, Adamjees, Ispahanis and Dauds. In the year 1971, the liberation of Bangladesh took place from Pakistan, thus most of the jute mills were taken over by the Bangladesh government. Later, government had built BJMC (Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation) to control and handle jute mills of Bangladesh.

Jute Industry played an important role in the economic development of Bengal. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Bengal could boast of only one manufacturing industry – jute. It employed about a half of the total industrial workforce of Bengal. In 1900-1, the export value of jute manufactures accounted for nearly a third of the entire export trade of Bengal.

The industry was dominated at the beginning, by Europeans and later, by Marwari. During most of its history, three-quarters of the labourers in jute factories were non-Bengalis. Bengalis generally occupied only the intermediate position in the industry. The raw jute for the industry used to come from Eastern Bengal.

Prior to the establishment of the first jute mill in 1855, handloom weavers used jute fiber to make twines, ropes, coarse fabrics for the poor, and also for fishing and for mooring vessels. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, jute attracted the attention of the British east india company, which sent a consignment of jute samples to England in 1791 that were successfully spun by flax machinery.

The British also found out means to soften the hard and brittle nature of jute fiber by adding oil and water. This made the fiber more pliable and easily separable, and resulted in the production of a usable thread.

Several historical events were responsible for the growth of the jute industry. In 1838, the Dutch government specified bags made of jute instead of flax for carrying coffee from the East Indies. At that time flax was imported from Russia. However, the Crimean War of 1854-56 led to the stoppage of supply of flax from Russia and forced Dundee, the famous jute-manufacturing centre of UK, to look for substitutes. In Dundee, the flax mills were converted into jute mills.

The American Civil War (1861-65), on the other hand, gave further impetus to the jute trade, as supplies of American cotton were much restricted. Since then, the industry did not return to flax or cotton. The main reason for this permanent shift had been its comparative cost advantage.

The jute industry grew rapidly and jute mills were established in many countries, including USA, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Holland, Spain, Russia, Brazil and Bengal. This led to a rapid increase in the demand for jute. The Bengali peasants responded quickly to meet the world demand by increasing the area under jute cultivation.

The outbreak of the First World War led to a rapid increase in the demand for raw jute, since it was used to manufacture sandbags to protect soldiers in trenches and to produce gunny bags for carrying food grain for the army. Inevitably, the price of jute also rose sharply.

Although Bengal, particularly Eastern Bengal, was the main producer of quality raw jute, the first jute mill was established at Risraw near Calcutta on the bank of the Hugli only in 1855, after 20 years of mechanical spinning of jute in Dundee. The delay was due to the non-availability of technical hands and power to drive machines. In 1854, coalmines were opened at Raniganj.

Attracted by the easy availability of power, George Auckland, an Englishman established the first jute mill. But he could not make reasonable profits and left the business. In 1859, the Bornee Company founded the second mill with spinning and weaving facilities. Unlike the Aucland mill, it started prospering after its establishment. Within five years it doubled its plant size.

By 1866, three new mills were established. Between 1868 and 1873, these mills made large profits. Five new companies started in 1874 and 8 more in 1875. Thus, Bengal experienced a real boom in jute industry towards the end of the nineteenth century.

With the establishment of jute mills, Bengal became a major exporter of sacking bags. Calcutta appeared to be a strong competitor of Dundee and successfully penetrated into Dundee’s hessian market in many parts of the world, including America, primarily because Calcutta had the cost advantage in producing jute goods.

Secondly, it was situated in close proximity to the jute growing districts of Eastern Bengal and Assam. Thirdly, it had cheap labour. Fourthly, the mills ran for 15 to 16 hours, and sometimes even for 22 hours daily. This led to a clear advantage of Calcutta manufacturers in monetary terms.

Moreover, they could offer a finer quality of jute. In sixty years between 1880 and 1940, the number of mills increased by 5 times, that of looms by about 14 times, of spindles by 19 times, and of persons employed by 11 times (see Table). The growth of the industry was significant during the 20 years between 1900 and 1920. During the Great Depression of 1929-33, the jute industry was severely hit since the demand for jute goods declined drastically throughout the world.

Before it was put to industrial use, jute was used mostly for domestic purposes. With the conversion of the Dundee flax mills into jute processing mills, the demand for jute increased manifold in the world. Bengali peasants were highly experienced in jute cultivation and could respond quickly to meeting this increased demand.

In 1872, when industrial use of jute had begun, it was mainly grown in the districts of Pabna, Bogra, Dinajpur, Darjeeling Rangpur and Hughli (West Bengal). The ratio of land under jute cultivation to total cropped land in these districts in 1872 was 14%, 11%, 9%, 7%, 6% and 5% respectively. Subsequently, jute cultivation spread to other districts. In 1914, leading districts in terms of the above ratio were Rangpur (28 %,) Bogra (25%), Tippera (comilla, 24%), Pabna (21%), Dhaka (18%), Faridpur (16%), Hughli (West Bengal, 13%), Rajshahi (11%), Jessore (10%), Nadia (10%), and Dinajpur (7%).

After the end of the First World War in 1918, the world demand for raw jute decreased. This had a negative impact on the area under jute cultivation. The situation worsened for jute cultivation during the Great Depression of 1929-33. The prices sank so low that jute growing became unprofitable. As a result, peasants greatly reduced their area under jute cultivation. By 1939, economic recovery took place. The breaking out of the Second World War caused an increase in the demand for jute and between 1939 and 1945; peasants put more areas under jute cultivation.

After the Partition of Bengal in 1947, it was found that all jute mills of the region were in West Bengal, which became a part of India and all major jute growing districts became part of East Bengal, a province of Pakistan. As it had no jute mills, East Bengal faced problems in marketing of raw jute. The problem was, however, quickly overcome by establishing jute mills in East Bengal.

The jute industry in the public sector, by virtue of its location in East Pakistan, became the property of Bangladesh after independence in 1971. Pakistani mill owners (about 68% of the total loom strength) left the country, leaving the industry in disarray. Abandoned jute mills were subject to heavy looting. The new government of Bangladesh had to take up the responsibility of rebuilding the industry. By a Presidential order, about 85% of industries, including all jute mills, were nationalized.

Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) was formed to manage and look after all the 73 jute mills having 23,836 looms at that time. At one stage the number of jute mills under the jurisdiction of BJMC went up to 78. BJMC had to revive the industry from a ruined position. Immediately after liberation, it became very difficult to solve problem of financial hardship of the jute industry because financial institutions were not working well. The short supply of spares, labour unrest, wastage in production etc. shook the industry severely.

For jute industry of Bangladesh, the first two years after liberation was the period of reorganization. The government offered cash subsidy to the industry, which amounted to Tk 200 million annually. The annual cash subsidy was reduced to 100 million since 1976-77. Thanks to this policy and periodic devaluation of currency, Bangladesh could retain its position of a prime exporter of jute goods in the dollar areas of export. The industry earned profit in 1979-80, when the subsidy was withdrawn.

By December 1979, BJMC had 77 jute mills, two carpet backing mills, and two spare parts producing units. In 1980, six twine mills were disinvested to the private sector. In June 1981, BJMC had 74 mills under its administration. These mills had about 165,000 workers and 27,000 managerial and office staff.

Denationalization of jute mills started in July 1982. The government ordered BJMC to complete the process by 16 December 1982, but only 10 mills could be handed over to Bangladeshi owners by that time. The valuation process and settlement of other organizational matters relating to handing over of the mills took a long time. Among the jute mills owned by BJMC, 46 had satisfactory financial performance in 1982-83, when their profit before contribution to national exchequer was about Tk 240 million.

The same mills incurred total losses of about Tk 430 million in the previous year. Jute mills incurred losses regularly over years and external donor agencies pressed hard for denationalization. More and more mills were put into the denationalization list. In 1999, BJMC had 33 mills. The World Bank continued to work closely with the government to restructure the jute sector, especially through denationalization, merger, dissolution, closure and setting up of new units.

The importance of the jute sector to the Bangladesh economy, in particular, cannot be over-stated, it is a major cash crop for over three million small farm households, the largest industry, producing about one-third of manufacturing output, and the largest agricultural export commodity in Bangladesh. The livelihood of about 25 million people (almost one – fifth of the total population) is dependent on jute – related activities in agriculture, domestic marketing, manufacturing and trade.

Jute, as a renewable natural fiber, is also bio- degradable and environmentally friendly, it is one of the few crops, which can be grown in the monsoon season, and can be rotated with rice to restore the soil fertility and structure. The leaves of jute plants enrich the fertility of the soil for sustained agriculture, and have good nutrition value as vegetables. Use of jute sticks as fuel and fencing material as substitute for wood prevents deforestation. Therefore, the increased global concern for the environment, the future prospects for jute remains high.

Lest we forget, the jute industry was the life blood of our economy for several decades and continues to be one of the mainstays of our rural economy even today. About 15 million farmers are involved in growing this cash crop and several million more of our population, perhaps an equal number, are involved with its processing, transportation, conversion, etc. In order to understand the current state of affairs in the industry, one must look into the background of the jute industry and the events that took place over the last several decades.

1.3 Bangladesh Jute at a Glance

  1. Average land area under jute cultivation: 12.35  Lac  acres
  1. Average production of jute carryover             :

58   Lac bales     (1.04  Million   Ton.)

3        “                (0.05  Million   Ton.)

61   Lac bales    (1.09  Million   Ton)

  1. Average internal consumption of jute :               38   Lac bales     (0.68   Million   Ton)
  2. Average Export of raw jute with value                 Quantity              Value

21.00 Lac bales  (0.37 Million Ton  1000 Cr. Tk.

  1. Number of jute Mills: :               Under BJSA                    81

Under BJMA                   97

Under BJMC                   27

TOTAL :                        205 UNITS

  1. Number of workers

employed in Jute Mills (Approx.)              :               BJSA  Mills                  55,868

BJMA Mills                   39,000

BJMC Mills                    61,681

TOTAL:                         1,56,549

  1. Average production of

Jute goods          :               BJSA  Mills       3,60,500   M. Tons

BJMA Mills       1,56,500   M. Tons

BJMC Mills        1,46,000   M. Tons

TOTAL :            6,63,000   M. TONS

  1. Average internal consumption

of Jute goods     :               BJSA Mills       20,000 M. Tons (yarn/twine)

BJMA Mills       48,000  M.    Tons (sacking/hessain)

BJMC Mills      21,000  M.    Tons (sacking/hessain)

TOTAL :       89,000 M. TONS

  1. Average Export of jute

goods with quantity, value          :

Quantity                     Value

BJSA  Mills      3,42,195           2014

BJMA Mills      97,160              58

BJMC Mills     96,523              537

TOTAL :         5,35,878          3139

  1. Spindles in Jute

Spinning Mills    :               1,75,114                  Installed

1,47,124                  Operated

  1. Installed Looms in Jute

Mills (As on 30th June 2010 )

BJMC: Installed


BJMA: Installed



Hessian                Sacking CBC        Others  Total

3790       2930       579         21           7320

2341       2930       513         21           5805

6532       5257       711         361         12861

1421       2530       183         200         4334

Acronyms used

BJSA Bangladesh Jute Spinners Association (Private Sector)

BJMA Bangladesh Jute Mills Association (Private Sector)

BJMC Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (Public Sector)

CBC  Carpet Backing Cloth.

Weight & Measures:

1 acre  = 0.405 hectares

1  bale =   180  K.G.

  1. mt. = 5.56 Bales

Prepared by Bangladesh Jute Spinners Association.

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