The country's first ceramic factory was established in Bogura more than six decades ago at a time when it took almost a day to reach the northern district by road from the capital Dhaka crossing rivers by ferries at least eight times.
There was no gas connection, skilled manpower, easy transport facility or government policy support for the survival of such industry in Bogura at the time.
However, Tajma Ceramic Industries Limited paved the way for the country's ceramic industry thanks to the vision and struggle of its founder late Muhammad Abdul Jabbar. It manufactures around 10,000 tonnes of ceramic products per year despite all the setbacks.
Abdul Jabbar began his career as a worker in a bidi factory in the first half of 20th century in the then East Pakistan. Later, in 1959, he established the factory with 50 workers on three acres of land in the colony area of Bogura.
The journey of the modern ceramic industry in this country began through this factory.
Initially, starting with 3-4 types of cups, the factory now produces at least 70 types of tableware. Currently, the factory has at least 230 employees and 50% of them are female.
According to Tajma Ceramic Industry sources, the factory started production in 1960, one year after its establishment.
After Jabbar's death in 1985, his younger brother Amjad Hossain alias Tajma became the managing director of this factory. He also died in 2020. Currently, Jabbar's only son Md Sharifuzzaman leads the company as a joint managing director.
Sharifuzzaman told The Business Standard how this ceramic factory was established in such a remote area of the country six decades ago.
"My ancestral home is in Naogaon's Raninagar. During the Pakistan period, my father came to Bogura and worked in a bidi factory. After that he started the bidi business himself. Later, he planned to build a ceramic factory," he said.
"Tajma Ceramics was established in 1959 with the support of Japanese company Nichiman Trading Housing. At that time, Japanese engineers stayed in Bogura to supervise the company. They also helped in the production process. At first, the factory used furnace oil to run the production process. Our products have gained popularity in the market since the beginning," he added.
Sharifuzzaman said in 1962, the then Pakistan government established Pakistan Ceramic Industries Ltd which went into production in 1966. After the independence of the country, the name of the company was changed to People's Ceramic Industries.
"Although our factory was running with furnace oil, the People's Ceramics had a gas connection. It was a disadvantage for us. It became hard for us to compete with them," said Sharifuzzaman.
However, in 1980, Tajma Ceramic Industry went through several renovations including installing modern machinery. The government also started providing subsidies in furnace oil for factories in the rural areas which was later withdrawn in 2001.
"At that time, our factory required 6,500 litres of furnace oil per day. As our production cost increased, we could not survive in the competitive market. And we closed the factory in 2001. It remained closed until December 2008. We had a debt of Tk2.75 crore to a bank," said Sharifuzzaman.
The factory again went into production in January 2009 after getting gas connection.
"Within four years after starting the production again, we paid all our debts. Now we have no loans from any bank," added the managing director of Tajma Ceramics.
The factory has created employment opportunities for many people living in the surrounding areas. It has a woman friendly policy as more than 50% of its workers are female.
Sebeka Begum, an employee of the factory from Dhunat upazila of Bogura, said, "I have been working here for 13 years. I joined the factory after my husband died. My daily wage is Tk300. One of my daughters is studying honours at Govt Azizul Haque College."
Halima Begum from Gabtoli area of the district has been working in the factory for 12 years.
"I have arranged marriage for three of my daughters by working in this factory. My husband is a bus driver. Besides him I also contribute to the family," she said.
According to Bangladesh Ceramic Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BCMEA), there are 68 factories producing ceramic products in the country. The industry is totally dependent on imports for the raw materials. The companies procure the necessary raw materials from various countries including Japan, Germany, New Zealand, Indonesia, Bulgaria, China etc.
Currently, the country's ceramic industry has a market of about Tk5,000 crore. According to the BCMEA, some ceramic companies of the country have now started to export their products in the international market.
Industry insiders say the country's ceramic products are mainly divided into three categories- sanitaryware, tableware and tiles. Some 10 companies in the country manufacture sanitaryware, 20 companies manufacture tableware and around 30 companies manufacture tiles.
Sharifuzzaman said, "We produce around 10,000 tonnes of ceramic products per year. Our products include plates, cups, glasses, jugs, mugs, bowls, soup bowl sets, vases, show-pieces etc. Our monthly turnover is around Tk1 crore. At present, we have an investment of around Tk1,000 crore in this factory."
However, the company is facing problems in recent days due to load shedding and the fuel price hike in the country.
"Our production and transportation costs have increased due to the situation. But the industry has a lot of potential despite all the setbacks. If this industry develops further, there is a huge possibility of employment for many people," said Sharifuzzaman.