The government should put emphasis on rearing improved variety of cattle within the country to meet demands and take appropriate measures at the fastest to terminate the country’s dependence on India

Published in The Independent on Tuesday, 8 September 2015.

Bangladesh faces a livestock crisis

Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled

Bangladesh must set up cow farms in greater number at the soonest to overcome the deficit caused by non-availability of Indian cows

According to the estimate of the Department of Livestock Services the population of livestock and poultry rose to 52.84 million and 288.57 million respectively in 2011-2012. Though the share of the livestock sub sector in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is small, it has immense contribution towards meeting the daily animal protein requirements of the country.

A number of initiatives have been taken for indegenous livestock development. The most important ones include production and distribution of vaccine for poultry and livestock, supply of duckling and chicks at a cheaper price, artificial insemination extension programme by using both diluted and frozen semen for improved variety, increased production of semen, artificial foetus transfer technology, prevention and control of anthrax, foot and mouth diseases and avian lnfluenza.

In the absence of adequate supply of indigenous livestock in the country the price of beef has shot up 40-50 per cent in the market this year against the backdrop of poor supply of cattle from neighboring India. Bangladesh has been largely dependent on India as local supply can meet at best 50 per cent of country’s demand. The Times of India said that some 30,000 Indian soldiers guarding the border with Bangladesh have a new mandate under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government this year – stop cattle from crossing illegally into the neighbouring country. Roughly every night, troops armed with bamboo sticks and ropes wade through jute and paddy fields and swim across ponds to chase ageing bovines, and smugglers, headed for markets in Bangladesh.

The present crackdown on supply of Indian livestock to Bangladesh is one of the clearest signs yet of how Indian policies are having an economic impact on neighbouring countries. Annually about 2 million cattle heads are smuggled into Bangladesh from India in the absence of needed legal trading agreement for sufficient number of cattle head to be exported to Bangladesh from India. The US$600 million-a-year trade has flourished over the past four decades since Bangladesh independence in 1971. Modi’s government wants to put an end to it. Indian Union home minister Rajnath Singh traveled this spring to the frontier with Bangladesh, calling on the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) to halt cattle smuggling completely so that the “people of Bangladesh give up eating beef”, media reported at the time.

The Hindu extremists believe that the “Killing or smuggling a cow is equivalent to raping a Hindu girl or destroying a Hindu temple,” said Jishnu Basu, a RSS spokesman in Paschimbangla. Paschimbangla shares a 2,216 kilometre (1,375 miles) border with Bangladesh. Since there is no trade agreement between the two countries to export adequate number of cattle heads from India to Bangladesh the border is a cattle smugglers’ heaven. The BSF soldiers have seized 90,000 cattle and caught 400 Indian and Bangladeshi smugglers so far this year. Traders who operate auctions to facilitate the sale of cattle to slaughter houses, beef processing units, tanneries and bone crushing factories estimate the industry contributed 3 percent to Bangladesh’s US$190 billion economy. A senior official in India’s home ministry said Bangladesh should find new sources of beef because India would stick to its stance.

The actual hit to Bangladesh’s GDP from India’s “no-cattle export” policies is not yet known. But experts said there was “absolutely no doubt” that the Bangladesh beef trade and leather industry were suffering. A spokesman of Bengal Meat, Bangladesh’s top beef exporter, said it had to cut international orders by 75 percent.

The company exports 125 tones of beef a year to Gulf countries. He said the price of cows had gone up by 40 percent over the past half of 2015 because of India’s move, and they had been forced to close two processing units. He plans to import cows from Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar to meet domestic demand, but he said Indian cows produced better quality meat and raw hide. Bangladesh Tanners’ Association president said 30 of 190 tanneries had suspended work due to lack of hides, and about 4,000 workers were jobless.

Nevertheless, Bangladesh can meet its demand for beef locally provided the government takes short-medium and long-term policy, said a former Director General of Livestock Department. He said the number of cows in Bangladesh is 6.0 million and half of those have been brought up under artificial insemination programme for improved variety. He adds that a calf need at least two years rearing as existing rules does not permit to slaughter cattle animal below two years old.

He said artificial insemination of cattle is an important and successful programme for livestock development. Semen is collected from the bulls reared in the Central Cattle Breeding Station at Savar, Dhaka and other districts and processed as liquid and frozen semen to run the artificial insemination extension programme. The number of inseminated cows stood at 2.7 million in FY 2011-2012.

Another former Director of Livestock Department opined that local variety of cattle weighs 80 to100 kilograms after rearing of three years while improved variety of cattle weighs 700 to 800 kilograms during the same period. He said local variety of cattle gives 1.50 to 2.00 litres of milk per day while improved variety of cow gives 50 to 60 litres of milk. It is expected that cattle crisis to take three years to ease if everything goes well. The Bangladesh Meat Business Association (BMBA) secretary general said Bangladesh can locally meet demand for cattle if commercial production of cattle is encouraged by the government.

A Centre for Policy Dialogue Additional Research Director, said the number of cattle in Bangladesh was 22.67 million in 2004-2005 fiscal years. The number has increased to 23.49 million in 2013-2014 fiscal years showing only 0.40 per cent growth. The growth of buffalo was 2.4 per cent, sheep 2.6 per cent and goat 2.9 per cent. The growth of poultry was 3.4 per cent. Fish production has risen by 4.84 per cent in 2013-14 fiscal years. The percentage of cattle out of total livestock was 51 per cent in 2004-2005 fiscal year and it dropped to 44 per cent in 2013-2014 fiscal years. The contribution of the livestock sub sector to GDP at constant prices was 2.58 percent in FY 2010. The estimated contribution to GDP during FY 2011-2012 from this sub-sector dropped at 2.50 percent.

Bangladesh is a small beef-eating Muslim majority country. The cow herds of the country incur losses during Eid-ul-Azha as Indian cattle enter the country through legal and illegal channels during that time. The government should put emphasis on rearing improved variety of cattle within the country to meet demands and take appropriate measures at the fastest to terminate the country’s dependence on India.

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre




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