The owners of 3,500 dairy farms in Chattogram are at a loss about where to sell their production of one million litres of milk during the "strict" countrywide lockdown.
Sweet shops, bakeries, hotels and restaurants are usually the main consumers of milk produced by the dairy farms in Chattogram. Now dairy farmers are worried about what lies in store for them in the near future as the shops of all their main consumers will are closed from 14 April.
Traders said milk sales in Chattogram have already started declining since the beginning of the one-week lockdown that commenced on 5 April.
Md Amin, a dairy farmer from Patia upazila of the district, produces 640 litres of milk a day in his farm. Milk sales are declining every day with the alarming rise in Covid-19 infections.
On 11 April, 230 litres of milk produced at his farm remained unsold. He was forced to sell the milk at Tk40 per litre, whereas he sold it at Tk75 per litre only two days earlier. Md Amin, who is the president of Patia Upazila Dairy Farmers Association, has already incurred Tk2 lakh in losses in one week.
According to the Chattogram Animal Resources Department, there are about 3,500 registered and unregistered dairy farms in the district, producing four lakh litres of milk per day. In addition, six lakh litres are produced by family reared cows. This milk is sold at Tk60-65 in the city and Tk50-55 at the upazila level.
Dairy farmers said that while other sectors have the scope to stop production, there is no such opportunity in this sector. On the one hand, sales of milk have stopped and on the other hand the price of animal feed has been increasing. As a result, dairy farm owners are facing losses from both sides.
Chattogram District Livestock Officer Dr Mohammad Reazul Haque said, "During the last weeklong lockdown, it was possible to keep the sweet shops open. Keeping the sweet shops closed during the upcoming lockdown from 14 April will have a negative impact on the dairy sector as well as other sectors. Although small-scale dairy farms can sell some milk in areas adjacent to their farms, the big commercial dairy farms will be faced with huge losses."
Malik Mohammad Omar, general secretary of the Chattogram District Dairy Farmers' Association, told TBS that current milk sales volume and milk prices have come down by 40%. Rural farmers are suffering the most. They are not being able to supply milk to the city due to a lack of vehicles. As a result, they are being forced to sell milk at Tk20 to Tk30.
"Farmers in different upazilas could not sell milk and many people have tried to handle the situation by making ghee with milk. But as the demand for ghee in the market did not increase, their sufferings know no bounds," he said, adding, "We suffered extreme losses at the beginning of the pandemic last year. The farmers did not get any incentive from the government, and adding insult to injury, the price of animal feed was also increased several times. In such a situation, farmers find themselves in an existential crisis."
Sources said when the weeklong lockdown started from 5 April, many sweet shops reduced their production. Some shops stopped production completely. As a result, farmers are being forced to sell their milk elsewhere at lower prices.
MA Sabur, general manager of the Chattogram-based sweet producer Fulkali Food Products, said, "During normal times, our company needs 2,000 to 2,500 litres of milk per day for sweet production. At the beginning of last week's lockdown, we stopped producing sweets. So, for the time being, we have stopped taking any supply of milk."
Engineer Ashraf Uddin, managing director of Zamzam Sweets and Bakes, said, "We used to buy 1,200 litres of milk per day for sweets and other dairy products, sold at our 23 showrooms in different upazilas of Chattogram and Khagrachhari. For the last three days, this amount has come down to 600 litres. Production will be stopped from 14 April."
When contacted, Mirsarai Upazila Livestock Officer Dr Shyamal Kumar Poddar said there are about 300 dairy farms in Mirsarai. In addition, about 25,000 farmers rear cows at the domestic level.
"The upazila produces about 14,000 litres of milk per day. During the lockdown last year, farmers had to sell milk in a mobile way through pickups at different markets by maintaining social distance. The same advice has been given to farmers in this year's lockdown also," he added.
"To maintain the supply chain, if needed, we will assist the farmers by bringing in vehicles from Chattogram city," he assured.