Jute is a long, soft, shiny vegetable fibre that can be spun into coarse and strong threads. It is produced from plants in the genus Corchorus, which was once classified with the family Tiliaceae, more recently with Malvaceae, and has now been reclassified as belonging to the family Sparrmanniaceae.
Jute is one of the most affordable natural fibres and is the second only to cotton in amount produced and variety of uses of vegetable fibres.
Jute fibres are composed primarily of the plant materials cellulose (major component of plant fibre) and lignin (major components of wood fibre). It is thus a ligno-cellulosic fibre, which is partially a textile fibre and partially wood. It falls into the bast fibre category (fibre collected from bast or skin of the plant) along with kenaf, industrial hemp, flax (linen), ramie, etc.
The industrial term for jute fibre is raw jute. The fibres are off-white to brown, and 1–4 metres (3–12 feet) long.
Jute needs a plain alluvial soil and standing water. The suitable climate for growing jute (warm and wet) is offered by the monsoon climate, during the monsoon season. Temperatures from 20˚C to 40˚C and relative humidity of 70%–80% are favourable for successful cultivation. Jute requires 5–8 cm of rainfall weekly, and more during the sowing period.
White jute (Corchorus capsularis)
Historical documents (including Ain-e-Akbari by Abul Fazal in 1590) state that the poor villagers of India used to wear clothes made of jute. The weavers, who used to spin cotton yarns, used simple handlooms and hand spinning wheels.
History also states that Indians, especially Bengalis, used ropes and twines made of white jute from ancient times for household and other uses.
Tossa jute (Corchorus olitorius)
Tossa jute (Corchorus olitorius) is a variety thought to be native to India, and is the world's top producer. It is grown for both fibre and culinary purposes. It is used as a herb in Middle Eastern and African countries, where the leaves are used as an ingredient in a mucilaginous potherb called "molokhiya”.
It is very popular in some Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Syria as a soup-based dish, sometimes with meat over rice or lentils. The Book of Job, in the King James translation of the Hebrew Bible mentions this vegetable potherb as "Jew's mallow". It is rich in protein, vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, and iron.
On the other hand, it is used mainly for its fibre in India, in other countries in Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. Tossa jute fibre is softer, silkier, and stronger than white jute. This variety astonishingly shows good sustainability in the climate of the Ganges Delta.
Along with white jute, tossa jute has also been cultivated in the soil of Bengal where it is known as paat from the very beginning of the 19th century. Now, the Bengal region (West Bengal in India, and Bangladesh) is the largest global producer of the tossa jute variety.
For centuries, jute has been an integral part of the culture of Bengal, in the entire southwest of Bangladesh and some portions of West Bengal. During the British Raj in the 19th and early 20th centuries, much of the raw jute fibre of Bengal was carried off to the United Kingdom, where it was then processed in mills concentrated in Dundee.
Initially, due to its texture, it could only be processed by hand until it was discovered in that city that by treating it with whale oil, it could be treated by machine. The industry boomed ("jute weaver" was a recognised trade occupation in the 1901 UK census), but this trade had largely ceased by about 1970, due to the appearance of synthetic fibres.
Margaret Donnelly, a jute mill landowner in Dundee in the 1800s, set up the first jute mills in Bengal. In the 1950s and 1960s, when nylon and polythene were rarely used, one of the primary sources of foreign exchange earnings for the erstwhile United Pakistan, was the export of jute products, based on jute grown in the East Bengal, now Bangladesh.
Jute has been called the "Golden Fibre of Bangladesh." However, as the use of polythene and other synthetic materials as a substitute for jute increasingly captured the market, the jute industry in general experienced a decline.
During some years in the 1980s, farmers in Bangladesh burnt their jute crops when they did not get profitable price. Many jute exporters diversified away from jute to other commodities. Jute-related organizations and government bodies were also forced to close, change or downsize.
The long decline in demand forced Adamjee Jute Mills, the largest jute mills in the world to close in Bangladesh. The government nationalized Latif Bawany Jute Mills, the second largest mill in Bangladesh. It was formerly owned by the businessperson, Yahya Bawany.
Farmers in Bangladesh have not completely ceased growing jute, however, mainly due to its demand in the internal market. Between 2004–2010, the jute market recovered and the price of raw jute increased more than 500%.
Jute has entered many diverse sectors of industry, where natural fibres are gradually becoming better substitutes. Among these industries are paper, celluloid products (films), non-woven textiles, composites, (pseudo-wood), and geotextiles.
In 2006, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 2009 to be the International Year of Natural Fibres, so as to raise the profile of jute and other natural fibres.
Jute is a rain-fed crop with little need for fertilizer or pesticides, in contrast to cotton's acute requirements. Production is concentrated in some parts of India and in Bangladesh.
The jute fibre comes from the stem and ribbon (outer skin) of the jute plant. The fibres are at first extracted by retting. The retting process consists of bundling jute stems together and immersing them in slow running water.
There are two types of retting: stem and ribbon. After the retting process, stripping begins; women and children usually do this job. In the stripping process, non-fibrous matter is scraped off, then the workers dig in and grab the fibres from within the jute stem.
India, Pakistan, and China are the large buyers of local jute while the United Kingdom, Spain, Côte d'Ivoire, Germany and Brazil also import raw jute from Bangladesh.
On 16 June 2010, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared that Bangladesh successfully completed the draft genome of jute.
A consortium of researchers from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) and private software firm DataSoft Systems Bangladesh Ltd. in collaboration with Centre for Chemical Biology, University of Science Malaysia and University of Hawaii were involved in this project.
Jute is the second most important vegetable fibre next to cotton. Jute is used chiefly to make cloth for wrapping bales of raw cotton, and to make sacks and coarse cloth. The fibres are also woven into curtains, chair coverings, carpets, area rugs, hessian cloth, and backing for linoleum.
While jute is being replaced by synthetic materials in many of these uses, some uses take advantage of jute's biodegradable nature, where synthetics would be unsuitable. Examples of such uses include containers for planting young trees, which can be planted directly with the container without disturbing the roots, and land restoration where jute cloth prevents erosion occurring while natural vegetation becomes established.
The fibres are used alone or blended with other types of fibre to make twine and rope. Jute rope has long been popular in Japan for use in bondage . Jute butts, the coarse ends of the plants, are used to make inexpensive cloth.
Conversely, very fine threads of jute can be separated out and made into imitation silk. As jute fibres are also being used to make pulp and paper, and with increasing concern over forest destruction for the wood pulp used to make most paper, the importance of jute for this purpose may increase.
Jute has a long history of use in the sackings, carpets, wrapping fabrics (cotton bale), and construction fabric manufacturing industry.
Traditionally jute was used in traditional textile machineries as textile fibres having cellulose (vegetable fibre content) and lignin (wood fibre content).
However, the major breakthrough came when the automobile, pulp and paper, and the furniture and bedding industries started to use jute and its allied fibres with their non-woven and composite technology to manufacture nonwovens, technical textiles, and composites.
Therefore, jute has changed its textile fibre outlook and steadily heading towards its newer identity, i.e., wood fibre. As a textile fibre, jute has reached its peak from where there is no hope of progress, but as a wood fibre jute has many promising features.
Jute is used in the manufacture of a number of fabrics such as Hessian cloth, sacking, scrim, carpet-backing cloth (CBC), and canvas. Hessian, lighter than sacking, is used for bags, wrappers, wall-coverings, upholstery, and home furnishings. Sacking, a fabric made of heavy jute fibres, has its use in the name.
CBC made of jute comes in two types. Primary CBC provides a tufting surface, while secondary CBC is bonded onto the primary backing for an overlay. Jute packaging is used as an eco-friendly substitute.
Diversified jute products are becoming more and more valuable to the consumer today. Among these are espadrilles, soft sweaters and cardigans, floor coverings, home textiles, high performance technical textiles, Geotextiles, composites, and more.
Jute floor coverings consist of woven, tufted, and piled carpets. Jute Mats and mattings with 5/6 metres width and of continuous length are easily being woven in Southern parts of India, in solid and fancy shades, and in different weaves like, Boucle, Panama, Herringbone, etc. Jute Mats & Rugs are made both through Powerloom & Handloom, in large volume from Kerala, India.
The traditional Satranji mat is becoming very popular in home décor. Jute non-wovens and composites can be used for underlay, linoleum substrate, and more.
Jute has many advantages as a home textile, either replacing cotton or blending with it. It is a strong, durable, colour and light-fast fibre. Its UV protection, sound and heat insulation, low thermal conduction and anti-static properties make it a wise choice in home décor.
In addition, fabrics made of jute fibres are carbon-dioxide neutral and naturally decomposable. These properties can also be used in high performance technical textiles.
Moreover, jute can be grown in 4-6 months with a huge amount of cellulose being produced from the jute hurd (inner woody core or parenchyma of the jute stem) that can meet most of the wood needs of the world. Jute is the major crop among others that is able to protect deforestation by industrialisation.
Thus, jute is the most environment-friendly fibre starting from the seed to expired fibre, as the expired fibres can be recycled more than once.
Jute is also used to make ghillie suits, which are used as camouflage and resemble grasses or brush.
Another diversified jute product is Geotextiles, which made this agricultural commodity more popular in the agricultural sector. It is a lightly woven fabric made from natural fibres, which is used for soil erosion control, seed protection, weed control, and many other agricultural and landscaping uses.
The Geotextiles can be used more than a year and the bio-degradable jute Geotextile left to rot on the ground keeps the ground cool and is able to make the land more fertile. Methods such as this could be used to transfer the fertility of the Ganges Delta to the deserts of Sahara or Australia .
Diversified byproducts from jute can be used in cosmetics, medicine, paints, and other products.