When we visit the US on work, we do a tour of American supermarkets to understand how modern retail could evolve in India. One of the shops we frequent is Trader Joe’s because it offers a curated collection of food and condiments from across the world. In this piece, NY times journalist Sameer Yasir, describes how American shoppers in shops like Trader Joe’s are increasingly using reusable jute bags. By doing, they aren’t just saving the planet, they are reviving an entire industry in India.
“Jute, a coarse fiber used to make fabrics like burlap, has been cultivated for centuries in the warm and humid climate of the Ganges Delta. Some of India’s jute factories have been in operation for more than a century, and today the country is the world’s largest producer. But in recent decades, the industry has struggled as less expensive synthetic substitutes have flooded the market. Farmers turned to other crops, cheap labor moved elsewhere and mills deteriorated from lack of investment.
Now, though, what had been jute’s weakness is its potential strength. As much of the world seeks biodegradable alternatives to synthetic materials like plastics, Indian jute is making its way around the planet, from supermarkets in the United States to fashion houses in France to wine producers in Italy.”
Governments the world over, especially in the US, have played a key role in jute’s revival: “Much of the hope for a revival of India’s jute industry rests on bans on single-use plastics that dozens of countries, including India, have enacted in recent years….The United States is by far the largest export market for all Indian jute products, growing by 25.5 percent last year to almost $100 million….
“The bags are pulling this industry out of sleep,” said Varun Agarwala, the executive director of Ballyfabs International, a manufacturer in Kolkata. “They are called a bag for life: affordable, robust and environmentally friendly.””
In fact, such is the demand for jute bags now that the industry now faces a labour shortage: “The Indian jute industry has faced a worker shortage as educational levels rise in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, poor states where jute factories have traditionally drawn most of their labor. And the factories, with their noisy machines, have had a hard time luring younger workers.
To reduce the worker shortage, the industry will have to draw more women, said Samir Kumar Chandra, a top official at Hukumchand Mills. While female workers have a higher output, Mr. Chandra said, the industry has long been inhospitable to them because of unequal wages and inadequate facilities for women, among other issues. But companies are now offering better benefits to women, and the number of female workers is slowly increasing. This is another trend we are noticing in India – rising participation of Indian women in the workforce and equal wages….”
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Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor financial advice. Marcellus does not seek payment for or business from this publication in any shape or form. Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services. Marcellus Investment Managers is also regulated in the United States as an Investment Advisor.
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