Mirza Azam

‘Viscose is valuable, and the country is spending a thousand crore taka importing it each year. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has paid special attention to producing viscose from jute. Soon, we will be able to produce viscose from our golden fibre. The country is also set to produce more than 500 different diversified jute products by 2021.’
State Minister for Textiles and Jute Mirza Azam made the comments while talking to Bangladesh Post in an exclusive interview.
Following are the excerpts from the interview:
Bangladesh Post: Describe the jute industry in brief.
Mirza Azam: If I talk about jute, I must recall our Liberation War as jute was highlighted at the time. Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in his speech during the liberation war stated that our farmers produced jute and we earned foreign currency by exporting it. But the currency was used to develop the then West Pakistan, and our farmers did not even get a fair price for their produce.
After the Liberation war, from 1975 to 1977, jute earned about 89 percent to 92 percent of our foreign currency.
However, the jute sector fell into an international conspiracy following the assassination of Bangabandhu on August 15, 1975. With the help of the World Bank (WB), some opposition party leaders formulated some policies to destroy the sector.
From 1975 to 1982, in the name of privatization, jute mills were returned to their owners at minimum prices. The owners then gradually shut down the mills, sold spare parts and machinery and rented out the lands. The Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC), a big jute institution, became a corrupt industry according to the then ruling party plan. Each year BJMC faced huge losses, the major cause for shutting down of the mills.
And finally in 2002, the country’s pride and one of the world’s largest Adamjee Jute Mill (AJM), was shut down by Begum Khaleda Zia. Even here, the WB aided the golden handshake for the closing. At the same time, it provided financial aid to India to open nine new jute mills. Their policy was to destroy the jute industry, and the then government was involved in the conspiracy.
Then in 2008, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her election manifesto said, if her party was elected, the old glory of jute would be brought back. And in 2009-2010, all the closed jute mills under the BJMC were reopened facilitating 35000 new employments.
To improve the deteriorated state of the mills, ensure farmers fair prices, and establish jutes in its export position, our PM made a Mandatory Packaging Act 2014 law, following implementation of which, we can consume 30 percent to 35 percent of our produced jute internally, previously 10 to 15 percent.
Because of the lack of production, the export to the international market could not be exploited. Due to various hazardous situations, the export process faced hindrances. So, it was very important to increase the inland consumption of jute, possible following implementation of the mandatory act.
Jute was the quintessential crop in our country, aiding many poor families in the rural areas. We organised a programme in which Artist Hashem Khan was the chief guest. There he stated that in 1954, when he came to the capital to admitted into Dhaka University, his father did not have the ability to afford the cost. His father had jute stocked at home which he sold to bear Hashem Khan’s study costs.
This is the history of our golden crop. Our prime minister is taking various pragmatic steps to retrieve the golden glory of the fibre. And we can say, it is developing day by day.
Bangladesh Post: What about private investment in jute industry?
Mirza Azam: We are trying to get a fund of Tk 10,000 crore from the government for the jute industry, and it is now under consideration of the Finance Ministry. We are hoping it will be passed, soon after scrutiny. It is totally from GoB. We are not going for any foreign investment at the moment. It is similar to the central bank’s Export Development Fund (EDF).
Bangladesh Post: Your views on modernization of jute mills.
Mirza Azam: As our jute mills are outdated and need Balancing, Modernisation, Rehabilitation and Expansion (BMRE), we have been trying to do it since the past three years. We were trying to get a loan of USD 350 million, but it was a bit lengthy. So we decided to start the BMRE of three jute mills which includes Karim Jute Mill, Karnaphuli Jute Mill and Jessore Jute Mill with our own GOB fund. Here with Tk 172 crore, all machinery are being replaced with modern equipment.
In the meantime, a few months ago the project was approved by the ECNEC. The project includes bringing in digital machinery. As the Chinese authority is delaying disbursement of loan, we will gradually modernize our mills with our own funds.
Bangladesh Post: Your hopes on diversification of jute goods.
Mirza Azam: I feel happy to say that now we are not limited only to ropes, sacks and jute bags. In 2016, when I took charge of this ministry, JPDC showed me only 85 diversified products. But at present we have 240 different kinds of products, and by 2021 we will have more than 500 diversified products. For making more diversified products, we need some raw materials, some of which are produced by our private jute mill owners. But we have to make sure of the availability of raw materials.
We have a competition with the Indian jute market, as they have a more developed one. They have five specialised jute factories that produce only diversified jute products. We are now doing something similar, to promote our jute.
Bangladesh Post: Viscose from jute, can we make it?
Mirza Azam: At present, we have come to a point where we are going through a test period of producing viscose from jute. With the cellulose, we are trying to make polymer bag s. As we are able to produce cellulose from jute which is indicating a massive potential for the coming days.
A Korean company recently contacted us to establish a ‘Tanth Polli’. Soon, we are going to sign a Memorandum of Understanding which will help us to set up a ‘Jute Village’ in Faridpur belt. Once we have an MoU, we will search out suitable places in our country.
We will visit Korea to check their mills at the end of this month. Our government has been showing immense interest in the jute industry, and suggested we produce viscose from jute fibre.
The idea of producing viscose from jute, actually came from the Prime Minister. This was totally a new idea for me, the PM suggested I get information regarding viscose from the web.
Bangladesh Post: Will viscose save our money? Which country will support us in viscose production ?
Mirza Azam: We have been importing viscose costing Tk 1,000 crore every year, including this year. That is why we are focusing on producing jute viscose because it is cheaper than wood viscose. At present, the United Kingdom, Korea, China and some other countries have Viscose technology. But they are producing cellulose from wood, they only produce products that cost higher. They also make a powder of cellulose that costs $1800. But the same powder from jute will cost only Tk 2200. We have advanced so far.
The United Nations is providing an automatic machine which will able to produce 200-300 tons of cellulose bags daily. We are stepping forward to avail the opportunity, and next week we will be sitting for an agreement.
Bangladesh Post: Have you selected any place to set up viscose industry?
Mirza Azam: For viscose, we have sent a DBB to the Planning Commission, and soon we will get final approval. At Narsingdi, Ghorashal where the Sonargaon mills is situated, we will set up our viscose industry. As viscose needs a massive water flow, Ghorashal is the best place for producing viscose. We will be able to produce 40,000 tons of viscose every year.
Bangladesh Post: Farmers are facing gargantuan challenges in producing jute, and sometimes they do not get fair prices. What is your statement?
Mirza Azam: We have taken various steps to ensure fair prices for the jute our farmers produce. Jute farmers are happy with their production and selling prices. Previously, there were many unwanted incidents of farmers getting frustrated and burning their jute at the markets, and even some incidents of suicide. But, now the situation has changed for government initiatives.
Bangladesh Post: Explain the jute industry village?
Mirza Azam: We are working to create jute industry village. Our government has declared that if any foreign investor wants to invest in our jute industry, we will provide all possible assistance. Jute industry village will be a joint venture with foreign investors.
Bangladesh Post: How will the jute industry help remove the country’s unemployment problems?
Mirza Azam: Government has taken steps to create employment through the jute industry. Sheikh Hasina Composite Jute Textile Mill, which is going to start in Jamalpur, will make it possible to create employment for nearly 3000 people, and centring the mill, 30,000 more employments will automatically be created.