Golden fiber brings hope to Bangladesh farmers

Tue Sep 20, 2011 6:32am EDT
 
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By Anis Ahmed and Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) - Ambia Khatun, a widowed mother of two, spent the entire day plucking jute. But as the sun began to sink she finally called her son and daughter to help her clean the raw fiber and spread it out to dry near their home.

Once dry, she will take the jute to a nearby market to sell, buy essential provisions and save the rest of the money.

"We are getting good prices this year," the 45-year-old said, adding that 40 kgs of jute -- popularly known as "golden fiber" -- are going for twice what they did a year ago.

Long a key export crop in impoverished Bangladesh, jute, a fiber derived from reed-like plants, fell from favor as demand for cheap synthetics soared. But now it is seeing a broad international renaissance for use in shopping bags to replace polythene, non-biodegradable and harmful to the environment.

Polythene bags, with roughly 1 million used each day in Bangladesh alone, choke drains, canals and even small rivers, polluting them beyond use. One example is the Buriganga near Dhaka, with heaps of abandoned polythene bags bobbing in its timid flow.

Bangladesh has banned the use of polythene bags and ordered they be replaced by jute bags but the rule is often violated by both dishonest traders as well as the customers.

By contrast, jute, Bangladesh's second main crop after rice, grows in the monsoon, fed by rain. It is strong enough to stand out in the rush of water that often floods all or much of the country and becomes a source of cash for farmers hoping to ease their grinding poverty.

"Higher price and better yield have encouraged many villagers to increase cultivation of jute," said Mujibur Rahman, a 67-year-old farmer.   Continued...

 
<p>A farmer dries stacks of jute in Manikganj September 19, 2011. Long a key export crop in impoverished Bangladesh, jute, a fibre derived from reed-like plants, fell from favour as demand for cheap synthetics soared. But now it is seeing a broad international renaissance for use in shopping bags to replace polythene, non-biodegradable and harmful to the environment. Picture taken September 19, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj</p>