Published in The Daily Star on Thursday, 27 August 2015.
PART-2: EID CATTLE
Shortfall likely up to 30pc
Stakeholders expect boom in local cow rearing, call for quick import to tackle short-term crisis
Pinaki Roy and Sohel Parvez
India doesn’t export and Bangladesh doesn’t import, yet the age-old cattle trade goes on and it accounts for nearly $1 billion business a year. Up against cow slaughter, the ruling BJP in India has recently choked the illegal supply channels to Bangladesh. New dynamics that followed: RSS guarding the borders, border guards becoming suddenly reluctant to be partners in the crime and smugglers looking for other goods. With the clandestine business almost coming to a grinding halt, The Daily Star, in its 3-part series, The Daily Star will focus on the impact on life and livelihood across the border.
The country will face a cattle shortage of up to 30 percent during Eid-ul-Azha this year due to India’s ongoing curb on cattle supply.
Taking advantage of the shortage, a group of unscrupulous traders may charge exorbitant prices for sacrificial animals during the festival, if immediate measures to import cattle are not taken by the government amid the Indian restriction.
The newspaper learnt these talking to different government officials, researchers, cattle traders, farmers, meat merchant and skin merchant associations and smugglers.
Both the state minister for fisheries and livestock and the commerce minister have admitted that there will be a shortage of cattle during the coming Eid.
Talking to The Daily Star, Narayan Chandra Chanda, state minister for fisheries and livestock, said, “There will be a crisis of cattle during the coming Eid-ul-Azha. It is not possible to increase their production instantly. But we are taking some initiatives to increase production, which will take some time.”
Speaking to journalists on August 14, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, said the shortage of cattle during the Eid would be as high as 10 lakh.
Nearly 80 lakh cattle are slaughtered annually in Bangladesh, of which almost 50 percent are slaughtered during Eid-ul-Azha, the second biggest religious festival for the Muslims. This year the demand for cattle may reach up to 40 lakh during the festival, according to the Department of Livestock and Services (DLS).
Cattle merchants and the association of hide and skin have also supported the DLS estimate.
DLS officials said every year around 60 lakh cattle are born while nearly 80 lakh (exactly 81 lakh in 2014-15) are slaughtered for consumption per year.
So the country has to depend on over 20 lakh cows from India every year. In 2013-14, too, a total of 21 lakh cattle came in Bangladesh from India, says data from the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
During Eid-ul-Azha, at least one third of the estimated number (20 lakh) comes in Bangladesh from India and an insignificant number (estimated to be not more than five thousands) is contributed by Myanmar, according to data gathered from the NBR.
However, dismissing the possibility of a shortage, Commerce Secretary Hedayetullah Al Mamoon told The Daily Star two weeks ago that the government has no plan to import cattle at the moment.
“We have enough cattle that are reared domestically targeting the Eid-ul-Azha. So there will be no crisis of cattle during that time. We are in touch with the ministry of fisheries and livestock in this regard,” he said.
The commerce secretary’s assurance, however, was belied by facts gathered from meat and cattle traders during a number of field visits by these correspondents.
The gap in supply, caused by the Indian restriction, has already increased beef prices up to Tk 400 per kg from only Tk 280 -300 per kg since April this year.
Ali Hossain, chairman of Bangladesh Hide and Skin Merchants’ Association, said India contributed a significant number of animals during the festival.
“Prices of cattle may rise to an unusually high level if the flow of cows from India remains inadequate. Many people will be unable to buy cattle to perform their religious duties,” Hossain said. “We have urged the government much earlier to facilitate import of cattle from other countries to meet domestic demand for Eid-ul-Azha and the leather industry. But the government is yet to pay any heed to our appeal.”
Robiul Alam, secretary general of Bangladesh Meat Merchants’ Association (BMMA), said although the supply of locally reared and fattened cattle increases during the festival, it may meet around 65 percent of the coming festival’s total demand.
Echoing Robiul, BMMA President Golam Mourtaza said, “Stock of locally reared cattle may deplete gradually in the absence of supply from India. Many farmers have sold their animals in the past several months due to high prices amid the Indian restriction.”
Khondaker G Moazzem, additional research director of Centre for Policy Dialogue who has recently done a research on the informal cattle trade between India and Bangladesh, said the government should consider facilitating import from other neighbouring countries to meet the demand for the coming Eid.
He thinks that many people will change their purchasing plans to cushion the effect of high prices.
“Many will go for the shared norm of sacrifice in the coming Eid. Some will opt for goats while some will refrain from sacrificing any animal at all,” he said.
The Indian restriction will also encourage farmers to put calves and oxen on the Eid market for sale, said Moazzem suggesting the government take steps to encourage farming for dairy and beef production in the long term.
BMMA’s Mourtaza also urged the government to encourage import of cattle from Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and other neighbouring countries.
ENTHUSIASM OF FATTENING
Amid worries of spiraling prices, many people are planning to buy their sacrificial animals well ahead of the Eid.
Badal Mahmud, who runs a grocery in Jessore, is one of them. “There is high possibility that prices of cattle will increase ahead of the coming Eid. So I am planning to buy a goat this month to avoid higher price,” he said.
Against this backdrop, many farmers have taken to increased cow fattening projects hoping to make more profit.
“I expect very good price this year,” said Md Anwar Hossain, a cattle farmer at Malanchi village in Pabna Sadar upazila. He sold four cows ahead of last year’s Eid and made a profit of Tk 4 lakh. In the coming festival, he plans to sell seven cows he is fattening now.
Ratan, another farmer from the same village, fattens eight cows targeting the Eid.
Golam Mostafa, who runs a cattle fattening farm in Satkhira, prepares 40 bulls to sell during the coming festival, up from 32 last year.
Moshiur Rahman, managing director of Paragon Group, said, “The fall in flow of cattle from India has created opportunity of business for the private sector.”
Paragon mainly focuses on poultry breeding and feeds. It took up cattle farming for dairy and beef production a couple of months ago. It has bought more than 150 cattle including breeding cows and calves, and plans to sell more than 40 of them ahead of the coming Eid.
“The dairy and beef sector has not developed in Bangladesh because of foreign dependence. The recent bar by India will create demand here and bring in investments in the sector,” he said.
A couple of new investors are also preparing to sign up for cattle farming, added Moshiur Rahman.
“A price spike of cattle will boost animal rearing locally. It will have a positive impact in the long term,” said Prof MA Sattar Mandal, former vice-chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU).
However, there have been complaints of using hazardous chemicals in cow fattening projects.
“Occasionally cattle farmers buy a medium-size cow a couple of months before the Eid. Then they start injecting them vitamins and hormones to fatten them within a few weeks.” Dr Md Abdul Hai, a livestock officer of Sirajganj told the Daily Star.
Anwar Hossain Ratan, a cattle trader of Pabna, said it takes a cow at least 6 to 12 months to grow fat in a natural way.
Contacted, DLS Director General Ajay Kumar Roy told The Daily Star last month that they had asked its field offices to increase monitoring to prevent use of health hazardous medicines for cattle fattening ahead of the Eid.