Nahar Agro Group, one of the largest dairy farms in Chattogram, produces 5,000 litres of milk every day. The company used to sell Tk2.75 lakh worth of milk at the wholesale and retail levels per day before coronavirus halted all their business activities. Now the milk remains unsold. It is distributed among the company's employees and other people as it cannot be preserved. Thus, the farm is incurring a loss of Tk2.75 lakh every day.
Monoj Kumar Chowhan, general manager (production) of the farm, said, "Every day, 5,000 litres of milk comes from 400 cows in our two farms in Mirsharai. The milk is sold to wholesalers, retail shops and sweetmeat shops in Chattogram and other districts. But now the sales have stopped. As there is no way of preserving our milk, we are distributing it among people. Now the fate of the company is uncertain."
Iqbal Hossain, president of the Chattogram Division of the Dairy Farmers Association, told The Business Standard, "Sweetmeat producers are the biggest buyers of milk. As sweetmeat shops are closed now, five lakh litres of milk ─ half of the total production of Chattogram ─ remains unsold. Dairy farmers of the district are incurring losses of Tk2.65 crore per day, as the price of milk is Tk53 per litre. In Chattogram division, 45 lakh litres of milk is produced per day. Now half of the production is not being sold. So the total loss in the sector of this division stands at over Tk11.92 crore per day."
Dr Mohammad Reyazul Haque, the district's livestock official, said as many as 3,500 dairy farms, registered and unregistered, are in Chattogram district. These farms produce around 10 lakh litres of milk every day, he said.
"Though the small scale farms can sell some milk to local people, the big scale commercial farms are in trouble. As sweetmeat shops, bakeries, hotel and restaurants are closed now, there is no demand for milk," said the official.
Dairy farm entrepreneurs of the region said the industry is going through a very hard time due to the coronavirus crisis. Though industries in other sectors have been able to suspend production, there is no scope to stop milk production in the dairy sector, they said. On the other hand, the price of cattle feed is increasing, the farmers said.
Dairy farmers of different upazilas in the district are going to the respective upazila livestock offices as they cannot supply milk anywhere due to the ongoing lockdown.
Dr Shyamal Kumar Poddar, livestock officer of Mirsharai upazila, said 14,000 litres of milk is produced in the upazila per day.
"Farmers contact me regularly. I have advised them to sell milk in different markets from pick-up vans maintaining proper social distancing. I see no other alternative to sell milk in this situation," said Dr Shyamal.
Al Amin, president of the Patyia Upazila Dairy Farmers Association, said, "Our regular milk customers have stopped buying milk from us because all the organisations that use milk are closed now., Around 10,000 litres of milk remain unsold here per day. So, 400 dairy farmers of Patya are facing losses of Tk2.5 lakh every day."
Ashraf Uddin, managing director of Zamzam Sweets and Bakes, said they used to buy 1200 litres of milk every day to make sweets and other milk-based food products for 21 outlets in different upazilas of Chattogram and Khagrachhari before the coronavirus catastrophe. "Collecting milk has stopped as our factory is closed now," said Ashraf.
According to the Bangladesh Dairy Farmers Association, the annual production of milk in the country is around 99 lakh tonnes (1000 litres is equal to one tonne) at present. The milk processing companies of the country use only five per cent of the total production of the country per day. The rest is sold to different sweetmeat shops, bakeries and households.
Mohammad Shah Emran, general secretary of the Bangladesh Dairy Farmers Association, said there are around 3.5 lakh dairy farms in the country.
"The production per day is around 1.2 crore litres. As the sale of milk has stopped, the dairy farmers are destroying what they produce. The dairy sector of the country is incurring a loss of Tk57 crore per day now. Around one crore people who are directly or indirectly involved in the sector are suffering now. If this situation continues for a long time, half of the dairy farmers in the country will have no option but to close their farms," said Emran.