Jute farmers, and their fields of gold Farmers of Murshidabad, Nadia and South Dinajpur districts of West Bengal continue cultivating jute hoping to make a small profit one day

07, Sep 2021 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Jute, once known as the ‘golden fiber’ of the country, seems to have lost its sheen long ago. Now it’s at best a link to the past, as newer packing materials and fabrics have taken over. However, many jute farmers of Bengal want to continue to preserve the tradition, even though it is a struggle for them now.

Year after year, they continue toiling in hope that the jute yield of the season will be better than the last. Hope is all that explains why they work the fields in the harsh sun and beating rain. It is their sweat that converts the green jute to its golden color. Even then when they go to sell the produce, fresh misery often awaits. Most never get a good price, making a profit remains a distant dream.

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Still farmers of Murshidabad, Nadia and South Dinajpur districts of West Bengal continue to cultivate their land in the hope of making a small profit one day. However, they say this year has been a big challenge. Due to the high rainfall this year, the jute fields have been submerged under water. There is some hope in the form of new equipment which can help the jute plant survive. The West Bengal Agriculture Department has said that this facility will soon be provided to jute farmers in different areas.

The fields of gold

February-March is the best time for cultivation, say the farmers as the soil is moist and just right for jute cultivation. The soil has to be deeply tilled over and over to ‘loosen’ it and farmers clean the field of all the weeds and debris. The tilled land is prepared and the manure has to be applied and mixed well. In addition, some chemical fertilizers such as phosphate and potash also have to be used. After leveling the land, irrigation and drainage ditches are made and jute seeds are sown between March and May.

Seeding is done both by hand, and with the help of sowing machine. Rows are spacing is 9-10 inches for ‘sweet jute’ and 11-12 inches for ‘bitter jute’. The distance between two seedlings in a row should be 2-3 inches. The farmer has all these measurements and techniques memorised and gets it right every time. Just like generations before them did. A dose of nitrogen fertilizer follows.

According to jute farmer, Mainul Haque, the price of jute had been good for several years. “A quintal sold for almost five thousand rupees but due to the Coronavirus lockdown in the country, factories were closed and the prices dropped,” he says. After the unlocking some farmers have again shown interest in jute cultivation. Some others who farmed other produce have also been thinking of jute cultivation, said Haque. In a way, the golden days of jute may return if this trend continues. It helps that people are now rejecting polythene and plastic products at home and abroad. This has helped increase the demand for jute bags. Production by private jute mills is starting again, and young entrepreneurs are also being encouraged to make and sell jute products. “If this success continues, it is hoped that in the near future the golden fiber will regain its past glory,” say the farmers.

Challenges always remain

There is a shortage of officially tested, high-quality jute seeds in the market. At the same time, the lack of proper irrigation, and lack of finances among the farmers, to get proper equipment etc. still continue. Younger generations of farming families do not want to be farmers themselves. Farmers continue to worry that their investments are always more than the price the produce gets in the market.

According to news reports, the Central Commission for Agricultural Prices and Prices has directed the Jute Commissioner to prepare a report after talking to all the concerned industries to find a solution. But it remains to be seen how much interest the commission can generate among farmers. Till then those who remain dedicated to jute farming continue to work hard to ensure their fields of gold thrive.

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by researcher Ripon Sheikh, who is travelling around rural Bengal, tracking and documenting social and cultural movements of indigenous people.

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.


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