Although jute fibre has a great worldwide demand for diversified uses, jute stalks usually end up as fuel for earthen stoves or as scaffolds for betel leaf plantations.
But a young Bangladeshi entrepreneur, Mohammad Nazmul Islam, is now manufacturing raw materials for 52 high-end products such as facial masks, water purifiers, printer ink, firecrackers, mobile phone, battery and gunpowder – all from jute stalks.
Nazmul, the owner of Taji Agro Industries Limited, has also received the prestigious SME Foundation's entrepreneur's award this year from the prime minister as a recognition of his business success.
Hailing from Lakshmipur, the entrepreneur completed his academic career in management at Dhaka University. With a dream of becoming an entrepreneur since his student life, Nazmul did not go after a job – a typical attitude of university graduates. He rather pursued small venture training alongside his tertiary level education.
By importing jute products from China and India in 2000, he began his business. Ten years later, he decided to make charcoal from jute stalks as he found China's Hunan making activated carbon.
He travelled all over the country for suitable jute stalks for charcoal and chose Jhenaidah and Faridpur for sourcing the raw material. In 2013, Nazmul started making jute stalk charcoal as raw materials for 52 products in the country. He started exporting it to China in 2014.
Now about 100 people work in Nazmul's Taji Agro Industries in Jhenaidah.
"Even during the Covid-induced global shutdown, I sold goods worth around Tk4 crore a year. Following my suit, some 33 entrepreneurs and 10 exporters are now in the business. At present, the annual export of jute stalk charcoal is around Tk150 crore," he told The Business Standard.
The entrepreneur said he had to hire Chinese experts in 2014 to start the business. "Around 95% of our production goes to foreign markets. But the growing demand is so high that we often struggle to meet it," he commented.
"The government should commission massive research on jute immediately so that we can make the products with jute stalk charcoal on our own and earn more by exporting it," he noted.
Referring to agricultural uses of charcoal, Nazmul said it has the potential to be used as alternatives to chemical fertilisers. He said charcoal enhances the water-binding capacity of soil and helps make fallow land turn into a cultivable one.
SME Foundation Chairman Md Masudur Rahman said, "Jhenaidah jute farmers once started switching to tobacco. But Nazmul brought them back to the cultivation of the golden fibre by proving that both jute and jute stalks are profitable. With his factory in Jhenaidah, he also created many jobs in the rural district."
SME Foundation Managing Director Dr Md Mafizur Rahman said the government is very sincere about diversifying jute products locally.