The silk industry in Rajshahi is now fighting for its survival because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). The sector suffered huge losses in the last two months because of the lockdown.
Showrooms selling silk clothing are now open but sales have dropped to half. Further, due to lack of demand, production in factories has also decreased.
Meanwhile, the producers of the sector are struggling to run their factories and pay their workers' wages.
According to the people concerned with the industry, the novel coronavirus has caused a loss of at least Tk300 crore to this sector.
Without incentives and special government initiatives, it will be difficult to sustain the industry, they said.
Investigations have found that only a few organisations in Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj are still making and selling silk attire produced in their own factories.
The other factories of other organisations just produce silk cloth, not garments. They supply the cloth for sale in different parts of the country.
A decade ago, there were about 15 institutions, in Sapura area of Rajshahi metropolitan city, that made and sold silk attire at their own factories. Only five of them are now operational.
Shops reopened, no sales
Silk factories and showrooms were closed between March 26 and April 12 because of the lockdown caused by the outbreak of Covid-19. Although a limited number of shops were opened before Eid-ul-Fitr, the amount of sales was lower.
After May 31, when the lockdown was lifted, showrooms and factories were opened. However, this did not have any positive effect on trade.
Rajshahi Sapura Silk Industries, in Sapura area of Rajshahi, has been producing and selling silk attire since 1979.
The company makes silk yarn, and from that yarn it makes clothing at the factory. In line with producing yarn, they import other raw materials from China to make silk attire.
At present, the showrooms and factories have reopened but production and sales are not promising.
Sajjad Ali, director of the company, said that earlier they kept the showroom open from morning until 10 at night.
Further, production in the factory continued round-the-clock. Even though the factory is open now, the showroom remains open from 10am to 6pm, he said, adding that the factory is operational from 8am to 4pm.
"When the factory was closed, we paid regular salaries to our 300 workers. Also, we provided Eid bonuses. Although our sales slipped to one-fourth, we did not dismiss any workers," he continued.
The amount of loans from the bank is increasing; in just two months of lockdown, they lost about Tk3 crore, Sajjad added.
"The situation is similar for other silk producers. Many have been forced to close their factories. The emergence of the novel coronavirus has put the silk business in a survival crisis," he further added.
Usha Silk Showroom, located next to Rajshahi Sapura Silk Showroom, shares the same view. The showroom is empty and has no sales.
Downturn in festival-centric business
Liakat Ali, president of the Bangladesh Silk Industry Owners Association, said some 40,000 workers are associated with the silk industry in the Rajshahi region alone.
"More than one lakh workers and employees are working across the country. However, in the current situation, this industry has fallen into a serious crisis. It is not possible to get relief without government loans and incentives," he said.
The losses in the silk industry across the country, because of the outbreak of novel coronavirus, will be around Tk300 crore, Liakat said.
Zahirul Islam, manager of Usha Silk Industries, said, "Our sales are higher during Pohela Boishakh and the two Eids. Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, we were unable to sell on Pohela Boishakh. The estimated loss of that period is around Tk50 lakh."
"Usually, we sell products of around a few lakhs every Eid day, but this time we hardly sold products of Tk50,000," he added.
The owners have to pay more than a hundred workers and employees in factories and showrooms every month.
Similar scenarios were found in Rajshahi's other silk showrooms. Everyone is counting their losses and the showrooms have no buyers.
Government institutions suffer as well
The situation in government institutions is the same as in private organisations. The Bangladesh Sericulture Development Board (BSDB) has also shared the same fate.
It is suffering from a manpower and financial crisis. It produces less yarn and fabric than the demand. Instead, the private silk garment manufacturers meet the demand for silk fabrics in Bangladesh.
Abul Kalam Azad, manager of Rajshahi Silk Factory, said that Rajshahi Silk Factory produces fabric using yarn obtained from across the country.
These fabrics are used to make sarees and other clothing and sell them in the BSDB showroom.
The BSDB manufactures cloth in the silk factory of Rajshahi with the yarn obtained from across the country. These fabrics are dyed, printed and made into saris, ties, and other colorful clothing.
According to the BSDB, in the 2019-20 financial year, it produced 4,770 meters of cloth with yarn obtained in the country.
Although the factory was closed in April because of the lockdown, 400 meters of cloth were produced in July.