Known as the ‘golden fibre’ jute is one of the longest and most used natural fibre for various textile applications.
Jute is extracted from the bark of the white jute plant (Corchorus capsularis) and to a lesser extent from tossa jute (C. olitorius). It is a natural fibre with golden and silky shine and hence called the Golden Fibre. Jute is an annual crop taking about 120 days (April/May-July/August) to grow.
It thrives in tropical lowland areas with humidity of 60% to 90%. Jute is a rain-fed crop with little need for fertilizer or pesticides. Yields are about 2 tonnes of dry jute fibre per hectare. Jute is one of the most affordable natural fibres and considered second only to cotton in amount produced and variety of uses of vegetable fibres.
Jute is long, soft and shiny, with a length of 1 to 4 m and a diameter of from 17 to 20 microns. Jute fibres are composed primarily of the plant materials cellulose (major component of plant fibre) and lignin (major components of wood fibre). The fibres can be extracted by either biological or chemical retting processes. Given the expense of using chemicals to strip the fibre from the stem biological processes are more widely practices. Biological retting can be done by either by stack, steep and ribbon processes which involve different techniques of bundling jute stems together and soaking in water to help separate the fibres from the stem before stripping. After the retting process, stripping begins. In the stripping process, non-fibrous matter is scraped off, leaving the fibres to be pulled out from within the stem.
Jute fibre is 100% bio-degradable and recyclable and thus environmentally friendly. A hectare of jute plants consumes about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide and releases 11 tonnes of oxygen. Cultivating jute in crop rotations enriches the fertility of the soil for the next crop. Jute also does not generate toxic gases when burnt.
Uses of Jute
Jute is a versatile fibre. During the Industrial Revolution, jute yarn largely replaced flax and hemp fibres in sackcloth. Today, sacking still makes up the bulk of manufactured jute products. A key feature of jute is its ability to be used either independently or blended with a range of other fibres and materials. While jute is being replaced by synthetic materials in many of these uses, some take advantage of jute’s biodegradable nature, where synthetics would be unsuitable. Examples of such uses include containers for planting young trees, geotextiles for soil and erosion control where application is designed to break down after sometime and no removal required.
Advantages of jute include good insulating and antistatic properties, as well as having low thermal conductivity and moderate moisture retention.
The major manufactured products from jute fibre are: Yarn and twine, sacking, hessian, carpet backing cloth and as well as for other textile blends. It has high tensile strength, low extensibility, and ensures better breathability of fabrics. The fibres are woven into curtains, chair coverings, carpets and area rugs and are also often blended with other fibres, both synthetic and natural. The finest threads can be separated out and made into imitation silk. Jute can also be blended with wool. By treating jute with caustic soda, crimp, softness, pliability, and appearance is improved, aiding in its ability to be spun with wool.
Jute is extensively used for sacking for agriculture goods as well as being used increasingly in rigid packaging and reinforced plastic and is replacing wood in pulp and paper.
Diversified by-products from jute include its use in cosmetics, medicine, paints, and other products. Jute sticks are used as fuelling and fencing materials in the rural areas of jute producing countries. These are good substitute for forest wood and bamboo for production of particle boards, pulp and paper.
Jute is a product of South Asia and specifically a product of India and Bangladesh. About 95% of world jute is grown in these two south Asian countries. Nepal and Myanmar also produce a small amount of jute. Pakistan, although it does not produce much, imports a substantial amount of raw jute, mainly from Bangladesh, for processing.
Production and trade
Jute production fluctuates, influenced by weather conditions and prices. Annual output in the last decade ranges from 2.5 to 3.2 million tonnes, on a par with wool. India and Bangladesh account for about 60% and 30%, respectively, of the world’s production., Bangladesh exports nearly 40% as raw fibre, and about 50% as manufactured items. India exports nearly 200 000 tonnes of jute products, the remainder being consumed domestically.
As the demand for natural fibre blends increases, the demand for jute and other natural fibres that can be blended with cotton is expected to increase. Jute’s profile in the textile industry has expanded beyond traditional applications and is being used in various higher value textiles for furnishings as well as in composites particularly as a wood fibre. Although currently diversified jute products account for a small percentage of total consumption this segment could expand rapidly with further investment in resources and expertise. In terms of conservation agriculture, jute also has a set role and is now accepted as an environmental, cost effective material for various soil applications.
Several projects are being carried out in Bangladesh by the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) to improve the capacity of jute producers and support industry diversification.
Jute Reinforced Polyolefines for Industrial Applications, Phase II: Material Optimization and Process Up-Scaling for Commercialization
The project aims at developing and industrially testing jute fibre reinforced thermoplastic composites for various uses to replace glass fibre and other products. Materials optimization and process up-scaling is expected to promote investment and greater use of jute fibre in various industries thereby opening up new market niches for jute fibre.
Entrepreneurship Development in Diversified Jute Products
The project involves poor women and other rural and urban unemployed and underemployed: hence significant alleviation of poverty is expected from the project. The project pilots the application of new physico-chemical treatments for jute dyeing, bleaching and proofing, and the integrated production of value-added jute blended products through small-scale spinning and weaving employing small-scale hand looms and power looms and the manufacturing of home textiles. Model chemical treatment plants in India and Bangladesh are used to demonstrate the treatment of chemical effluent to minimize the polluting effects of dyes and other chemical applications.
Other projects have been commissioned to examine the markets for geo-textile applications and projects to improve efficiency of production for various jute uses. Together these projects build capacity in jute processing and help position the fibre more strongly on international markets and increase awareness of the fibres potential.