- Tk5 crore worth of husk-made fuel is sold every month
- Decrease of sales in paddy market has induced a supply crunch
- Production cost has soared due to supply shortage
- Some 35-40 factories have gone out of business due to lack of fund
Some 25 years ago, the husk burning brisket trade took off around the biggest paddy market of the country by the bank of the River Meghna in Brahmanbaria Ashuganj. This promising sector is now struggling.
Currently, there are some 30-35 factories which have managed to stay in business while a similar number of factories have closed down in the past few years. Even now the husk brisket producing factories of Ashuganj are selling about five crores worth of burning husk briskets every month.
Other than the pandemic induced effects which have dealt a blow to most business sectors globally in the past couple of years, the husk burning brisket producers are facing a fund crisis.
The husk brisket business flourished thanks to the rice mills of Ashuganj, which produces a significant amount of husk following paddy threshing. The brisket manufacturing factories then buy it from them.
The husk-made briskets, which creates little or no smoke, is being widely used as an alternative to gas and coal, not only in factories but also in households.
People linked with the trade said the use of husk burning briskets in factories rose due to the crisis of gas supply.
The factories, which employ five to six labourers each, produce 150 mounds of husk-burning briskets daily on an average.
Factory owners say they are under a fund crisis, which further escalated during the pandemic period, as they failed to make the normally expected profit.
The husk brisket is sold across the country including Dhaka and Chattogram. Currently, wholesalers buy this item for Tk320 per mound. The paddy harvesting season is ideal for the husk brisket trade as the husk can be sourced at a lower price.
However, the production cost has also soared thereby pulling down the profit margin, says the factory owners. They also said, trading at the paddy market has shrunk as rice is being imported from India. As a result, the brisket factories are not getting enough husk to meet their demand. The supply shortage also pushed its price upwards.
The brisket factories are now buying husk at Tk6 per mound from the rice mills, which were previously selling for Tk3-4 per mound before the crisis.
The factory owners said it takes 43 kg of husk to produce one mound of burning briskets. After paying the transport costs, workers' salaries and electricity bill, the profit is insignificant.
We are making a profit of only Tk10-15 per mound, they said.
Proprietor of 'Subedar Jalani Mill' of Sonarampur, Ashuganj, Sayedur Rahman Roni said, "We used to make a yearly profit of 8-9 lakh Taka. But the business was dull last year due to Covid. While the overall normalcy has returned, the fact remains that the rice mill owners are buying less paddy because of rice imports."
"I am simply keeping the factory open hoping that the business will turn around," he said.
'Shiuli Coil Lakri Mill' owner Selim Bhuiyan said, "we used to produce 2-3 mounds of husk brisket every day. But due to the husk crisis, it has reduced to 1-1.5 mounds a day."
"If the crisis persists, we'll have to shut down the factory," he feared.
Speaking on the matter 'Ashuganj Lakri Mill Malik Samity' General Secretary Bulu Haider said, "Although this business sees a transaction of Tk5-6 crore a month, Banks do not provide us loans."
"Most of our factory owners have shut their factories due to a crisis of funds. Now we are facing a supply crunch. The husk brisket trade is reeling under one crisis after another. Only If we get support from the government and easy loans from the banks, we can keep the business alive," said Haider.