Govt embarks on program to cut import dependency on jute seeds, propagate better breed derived from jute genome decoding
It has been over two years since Bangladeshi scientists bred a jute variety with 20 percent higher yield potential, thanks to new genetic knowledge jute breeders gained from jute genome decoded nearly a decade ago.
Unfortunately, the highly productive new variety – BJRI Tossa-8 (also known as Robi-1) – with finer and stronger fibre and brighter texture could not be made available to jute farmers across the country in the past two years.
The reason was revealed to be a non-availability of seeds.
Jute growers in Bangladesh mostly use seeds imported from India as Bangladeshi farmers prefer growing high-value vegetables instead of seeds for jute.
Over 90 percent of 4,500 tons of jute seeds that Bangladeshi jute growers require each year comes from India.
The agriculture ministry has found that as the country has very limited land resources and there are many competing crops against each plot of farmland, farmers prefer growing seasonal vegetables instead of growing jute seeds.
Cultivation of cauliflowers can potentially fetch a farmer Tk. 380,000 from an acre of land but, the same farmer can expect hardly a profit of Tk. 48,000 if he chooses to grow jute seeds from the same land.
Attaining self-sufficiency in jute seeds
After a series of meetings having taken place since late last year, the agriculture ministry has come up with an ambitious program of attaining self-sufficiency in jute seed production in three to five years’ time.
Rolling out a fund of over Tk. 100 crore, the government will go for a buy-back arrangement soon where, farmers will grow jute seeds and the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) will buy the seeds from the farmers, maintain seed quality and sell the same among jute growers for cultivating better quality fibre with much higher yield potentials.
Agriculture Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque told this correspondent that the Prime Minister had given her endorsement to this program as “we don’t want to remain dependent on Indian jute seeds anymore.”
Talking to Dhaka Tribune on Friday, Agriculture Ministry Additional Secretary Balai Krishna Hazra said, “We’ll soon embark on a program to attain self-sufficiency in jute seed production. In 2022, we’ve a plan to grow at least 1,000 tons of jute seeds domestically and gradually in three years’ time we’ll attain a capacity where most of our farmers will be able to use locally grown jute seeds instead of ones imported from India.”
He said moves were underway to provide necessary incentives and buy-back guarantees to growers so that they were not financially losers by cultivating jute seeds.
In this process, officials noted, farmers in Bangladesh would be able to adopt BJRI Tossa-8 – the high yielding variety developed by Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI), which in turn will result in aggregate higher national output of jute, the world’s second most important natural fibre after cotton.
The agriculture minister said there should not be any logical reason why Bangladeshi jute farmers remain content with low yield jute varieties just for want of seeds when “our scientists have developed better breeds already.”
Jute’s role in Bangladesh’s economy
Farmers in Bangladesh grow nearly 1.5 million tons of the natural fibre on 0.7 million hectares of land. Bangladesh earns up to one billion dollars from exports of raw jute and jute goods each year.
The country was a pioneer in banning polythene use and increasing the use of jute sacks for food packaging. But two decades on, the ban imposed is yet to be enforced fully.
Of the two types of jute – White and Tossa – farmers in Bangladesh grow the former only on 15 percent of land while Tossa is grown on 85 percent of total land under jute cultivation.
Currently, over 90 percent of land under Tossa jute is grown with imported Indian jute seeds called – JRO 524.
BJRI scientists expect a much higher volume of fibre output if farmers are provided with BJRI Tossa-8 seeds instead of the imported seeds or other existing locally produced seeds.
According to BJRI, the BJRI Tossa-8 has 20 percent more yield potential, compared to the hitherto best Bangladeshi Tossa variety, BJRI Tossa-2. Prior to its February 2019 official release, BJRI Tossa-8 was field tested in 12 different locations across the country and its yield was found to be 3.33 tons a hectare, compared to BJRI Tossa-2’s 2.77 tons.
Thanks to years of graft and inefficiency, Bangladesh’s public sector jute mills had to be closed down mid-last year. However, the government has recently floated tenders seeking to lease out the mills under private operators.