The sale of sacrificial animals during Eid-ul-Adha saw a significant dip this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, burdening cattle farmers from across the country with 29 lakh unsold livestock.
But these farmers' woes are far from over as they are facing significant difficulties in selling their livestock to butchers – who are generally uninterested in buying larger and more expensive cows bred specifically for ritual sacrifice, insiders have said.
Moreover, frozen meat imports amounted to 2,500 tonnes this July, an increase from Bangladesh's monthly average volume of 1,000-1,500 tonnes, according to Chattogram port sources. As frozen meat is relatively cheaper, many hotels and restaurants prefer it to local cattle meat.
According to the Department of Livestock, Bangladesh had 1.19 crore cattle – cows, goats, sheep and buffaloes – ready for sacrifice this year. But only around 90 lakh animals were sacrificed at the last Eid.
Many cattle farmers are now financially struggling because of unsold livestock worth Tk29,000 crore, high costs of cattle feed, saturation of the local market with frozen meat imports, and bank loan repayments, the Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association (BDFA) has said.
The BDFA also claimed that cattle farmers are facing additional pressure after the smuggling of cows from India and Myanmar to Bangladesh resumed following the Eid celebrations. The influx of smuggled cows is making it difficult for local farmers to sell their cattle to butchers.
BDFA President Imran Hossain told The Business Standard, "If farmers cannot sell their cattle, worth around 29,000 crore, they will not get back their investment. This in turn will prevent them from reinvesting the money into their businesses.
"The whole situation has left cattle farmers financially vulnerable, and many are planning to shut down their farms."
He continued, "We are advising farm owners to sell their cattle to butchers. But if the butchers become uninterested in buying the cattle, the farmers will have nowhere to turn to.
"We are facing a double dilemma. Hotels and restaurants prefer imported frozen meat because those are relatively cheaper, and the import volume has gone up after the Eid. Meanwhile, the illegal influx of cattle through the border has made it a challenge to sell livestock to butchers."
Echoing similar views, Omar Faruk, owner of Babu Cattle Agro in Manikganj, said, "I took 60 cows to Dhaka for sale during the Eid, but had to return with 50. Butchers are not interested in buying large cows, and offer much lower prices.
"I am trying to sell my livestock despite these hurdles because I am financially struggling to bear the high cost of cattle feed. The bank is also pressuring me to pay back the loans I took out from it."
Cattle farmers are worried about becoming penniless if the influx of cattle from India and Myanmar does not stop, and imports of frozen meat are not halted. They say that such issues are preventing them from selling their livestock to butchers.
To this end, the BFDA has already sent letters to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), and various ministries and departments concerned, including the Department of Livestock, requesting the authorities concerned to take effective steps to halt frozen meat imports and smuggling of cattle in the border regions.
The BFDA also sought support from the government in selling off the livestock of the financially struggling farmers as soon as possible.
When his attention was drawn to the issue, Dr Ahsan H Mansur, Executive Director, Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh and economist, said, "It is true that the sale of sacrificial animals dipped in the last Eid-al-Adha.
"But the demand for meat will exist throughout the year. So, cattle farmers can sell to the butchers to resolve their problems."
Dr Mansur, however, emphasised the need for curbing the smuggling of cows at the border, otherwise the local cattle farmers could face losses.
According to the Department of Livestock, Bangladesh currently has 6.98 lakh dairy farms across the country.