Pāṭa patha, The jute path (2)
In our last issue we saw pictures of the jute harvest in the Matlab area, southeast of Dhaka, in the Chittagong district. There, the jute is thicker and taller than the one that is cultivated in the area that we’ll visit today, located further west from Dhaka, where jute is much thinner, short and rather pale. I wasn’t able to find anybody that could tell me if this happened because they belonged to different jute species, they were two varieties from the same species or the same one that grows in a distinctive way depending on the conditions of each place.
There aren’t big changes in the jute process and requirements but the differences are strong enough to notice that they aren’t just the same. At first, something that caught my attention was that often peeling and washing took place one right after the other; they were done by the same person and at the same spot, inside the water.
This time—thanks to my companion that acted as translator—I had the chance to talk to some people that were taking the lunch break, and get to know first-hand what Jute meant to them and their economy.
As I mentioned in the first issue, I already knew that Jute is a cover crop planted in-between rice harvests because the strong monsoon rains prevent its cultivation. But until I talked to them that day, I didn’t know to what extent jute was the only realistic option they have between the rice harvest and planting it again.
When I asked them about their relation to jute, they always answered with bittersweet and ambivalent sentences. “Jute is hard to cultivate, it means a lot of work and it doesn’t give benefits like rice or other better paid crops. But it is a treasure for us, if we wouldn’t be able to plant jute, we wouldn’t have an income during half of the year. When the jute demand went down, times were hard for us. Thanks to jute we have a better life.”
It’s really a tough work: to spent many hours with water up to your waist, with wrinkled hands, straining your fingers, etc., but when you hear them talking vividly, grateful, about jute, you think of the trouble these people would face if, for example, jute stopped being used to produce espadrilles and another fibre, cheaper to produce, would be used.
Entire families work on the cultivation and extraction of jute fibre. People whose faces lit up when I showed them on my phone what we did with their precious golden fibre, when they saw how those crude fibre bundles that they harvest turn into our beautiful espadrilles.
In our next issue of The jute path (Pāṭa patha) we’ll visit a big factory that spins jute into thread and we’ll get to know the impact of two major factors: the increased competition and the introduction in the market of synthetic-fabric sacks towards hessian or burlap jute bags (commonly known as gunnysacks).