Huge domestic and global demand for jute viscose fiber shows a great prospect to produce it in Bangladesh where the high-quality raw material is available at low cost
Mirza Azam MP, State Minister for Textiles and Jute
The Ministry of Textiles and Jute of Bangladesh is responsible for the promotion, development, and regulation of the Bangladesh textile and apparel industry. Recently in a conversation with Bangladesh Textile Today Mirza Azam MP, State Minister for Jute and Textile, opens up on several significant issues related to the jute and textile industry, including latest updates on jute viscose project, BJMC activities etc. Here is the illuminating part of the discussion for Textile Today readers.
Textile Today: We know a minute of a document was signed by the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) and China’s Textile Industrial Corporation for foreign economic and Technical Corporation to take the jute viscose project onward. In addition, an expert team from Bangladesh visited some viscose plants in China for an exposure to carbon/charcoal-based viscose manufacturing process. Could you please share us the update of the project?
Mirza Azam MP: The project is undergoing. We have already made a Development Project Proposal (DPP) and sent it to the Planning Commission. The commission suggested us to do ‘International Feasibility’ report on it. We gave the responsibility to a Germany organization and we are expecting that we will get it within one month. Earlier we did the feasibility report locally.
Textile Today: BJMC said that the proposed plant will need a minimum investment of ten billion taka. Is the government have the mindset to invest in viscose and finally when Bangladesh can able to produce viscose commercially?
Mirza Azam MP: The word ‘viscose’ was alien to us. At first, I heard this word from our honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. She emphasized us to dig ourselves in it. Then we looked into the matter and found that every year we import viscose from abroad worth about 1 billion taka. Normally viscose is derived from the ‘cellulose’ from wood pulp, but it is also possible to make viscose fiber from ‘jute cellulose’, which is more reasonable and advanced quality.
The project cost to build a factory for producing viscose is 120 billion taka, not 1 billion, plus land and other costs need to be included. Altogether the total cost will be much higher. After the implementation of the project, we can produce 40,000 tons of viscose every year and that means cotton import will be less than 200,000 bells each year.
We are implementing this jute viscose production project because it is completely new in Bangladesh. We are demonstrating the way as any private company will not dare to take the risk for such a new project. The private companies will only come forward when they will see our success in this project. I think many factories will be set up to produce viscose in our country as the raw material is at arm’s reach at low cost and we also can export viscose after fulfilling our local demand. So that we have a great expectancy from the ‘jute viscose project’.
Fascinating thing is that from jute cellulose we can make viscose, we can make jute polybag, we can make frame for eyeglasses and much more. A few days ago, we sent a team including Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan in England to look for ‘jute polymer automatic machine’. Our team understood that to produce viscose from wood, it needs to plant a tree and after 4 to 5 years later, they collect cellulose from the tree. They can collect 30 percent cellulose from the wood whereas we can collect 65 to 70 percent cellulose from our 3 to 4 months old jute plant!
From wood and jute cellulose, we can also make powder. The cost for producing per kg of powder from jute is 2200 taka (around 25 to 27 dollar) whereas the cost will be 1800 dollars if that is produced from wood.
From cellulose we can produce all sorts’ necessary things, we can make medicine peel from our jute cellulose. Huge domestic markets, as well as international markets, are eagerly waiting to take all of those products. I think in future we have to be watchful over our jute cultivation lands.
Textile Today: A few days ago Dr. Mubarak Ahmad claimed that due to the lack of 1.7 billion Tk, the project of making polythene from Jute is going to shut down. Why is the government not taking proper actions to make the project successful?
Mirza Azam MP: The project spirit has come directly from our honorable Prime Minister, we all are doing these as she ordered us to do these and not 1.7 billion taka, the project requires 700 billion taka. Our Prime Minister didn’t back down. Normally Ministry of Textile and Jute faces difficulties to get allocation for any project from the Finance Ministry, but for the project related to jute, we did not face any difficulties. Just a few days ago, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved around 4 billion taka for a jute project of Jute Department. We are reopening our three jute mills by our own funding and within just one month 1.72 billion taka project has been approved from ECNEC.
Our Prime Minister has already approved the 5.19 billion taka project (Sheikh Hasina Specialized Jute and Textile Mill) to produce denim fabric and raw materials of various diversified products.
Textile Today: The government is going to set up a specialized jute textile mill (Sheikh Hasina Specialized Jute and Textile Mill) at a cost of Tk 5.19 billion although public sector textile and jute mills are counting losses every year. How will the government make the project profitable?
Mirza Azam MP: Now we produce jeans pant from imported cotton, cost of per jeans pant is about 800 to 1200 taka, but in our ‘50% jute+50% cotton’, the cost will be maximum 300 to 400 taka. There are huge domestic market as well as global markets for this product. Every year we will profit around 1.70 to 1.80 billion taka and within 6 years our investment will come out. The government is not a business organization, we are just showing the path to our businessmen as they will not take any risk for this experimental project.
As corruption is a common scenario in the public sector that is why public mills do loss and private sector do profit. When we will see that the private sector is acquiring this project, if necessary, we will shut down the project if we cannot profit.
Textile Today: According to a finance ministry provisional estimate, the BJMC loss was Tk 4.89 billion in the last fiscal year and every year the government gives Tk 5 billion to Tk 10 billion in subsidies to the BJMC from the budget. How do you see all of the matters? Why is BJMC facing the loss? And how can BJMC overcome this hurdle?
Mirza Azam MP: Actually BJMC is not doing any loss. There are 80 thousand employees under BJMC and at least ten times of these people are related to this sector. 40 million people of Bangladesh are involved with it. When we see the jute marker is downward, we fix jute price at a rate, which is profitable for farmers though to do this we are doing loss as we are buying low-price jute by the high price. So why are we doing loss to buy jute at a high price? BJMC is not a business organization; it is the government, who saves the farmers. When we buy jute by the high rate then the private sector forced to buy it with the same or nearest price. BJMC is providing a subsidy to the farmers from the Agriculture Ministry.
For several reasons, the workers are almost double than a necessity in a public mill, so that we have to pay them double. Without this, you know that the salary of workers is high in a public jute mill than a private jute mill. However, in a private mill, a worker has to work hard and more than a public mill, but we have to pay almost double salary to our workers. Therefore, to help and support the farmers we are doing such loss. Once BJMC was full of corruption, but we have eliminated this corruption.
We know that most of the public mills are of 50’s decade. One of the major reasons for the loss of BJMC loss is the low productivity of the jute mills, productivity is only 50%. Electricity bill is huge. If we had 90% productivity then the electricity bill would be the same but profit would be high. We are giving a high salary, high electricity bills but for lower productivity due to old machinery, we are doing loss. However, we are doing less loss than previous times as previous times the amount of losses were almost 10 to 12 billion, which we have brought down by 4.89 billion.
Textile Today: Why are we using old machinery that are the reason for low productivity?
Mirza Azam MP: We need latest and modern machinery to increase our productivity and that is why we are bringing all types of new machinery. We are importing new machinery from our own fund of 1.72 billion taka. We are using all latest and advanced machinery at Sheikh Hasina Specialized Jute and Textile Mill.
Textile Today: The government has a plan to establish a lot of textile engineering college and textile institute in every district. However, we are seeing that many textile engineers are remaining unemployed in our country. In this context, I want to ask you that is there any necessity of a textile institute in every district.
Mirza Azam MP: In our textile sector about 13000 to 15000 Indian, Sri Lankan employees are working. Per employee gets 50 thousand taka to 0.5 million taka salary each month. Why are they getting such amount, because they are efficient? Many private universities are just selling certificates. A real textile engineer is not being unemployed rather he/she gets a job before finishing his/her education. We will establish a textile engineering college and textile institute in every district, which will help to build efficient manpower for the sector, the sector earns 82 percent foreign currency.
Bangladesh government announced 50 billion USD target for apparel export by 2021. To fulfill this target we need more efficient manpower. It does not make sense that we will hire efficient manpower from India and Sri Lanka and spend our earned money for them.
Bangladesh government has made 100 economic zones where many textile factories will be set up and it requires huge textile engineers. On the other hand, China is leaving its textile business and to grab this opportunity we need more textile engineers too.
Therefore, the textile engineering college and textile institute we will set up will not make unemployed engineers rather it will remove unemployment and decrease foreign dependency on skilled workers.