With the daybreak, milk markets in Cumilla bustle with buyers and sellers from far-off villages and upazilas.
Every morning, dairy farmers sell 12,500 litres of milk worth around Tk6 lakh at Bagmara Bazar of Lalmai upazila, the largest milk market in the district.
Around 50,000 litres of milk worth Tk25 lakh are sold every day at Rajganj and Chawkbazar under Sadar upazila, at Suagazi Bazar under Sadar South, at Burichang Bazar and Nimsar Bazar under Burichang upazila, and at Bagmara Bazar.
Bagmara market alone supplies half of the total demand for milk in the district.
Braving the dense fog of early morning, the farmers go to different markets, carrying milk in bicycles, rickshaws and CNG auto rickshaws.
About 20 wholesale buyers purchase almost half of the 12,500 litres of milk from this market for Tk40-Tk50 per litre while the rest is retailed.
Sometimes, the price of milk drops, especially in the monsoon when the demand for milk falls.
Around 2,000 farmers rear cows at Lalmai upazila. Most of the milk in this market comes from Silonia, Hajtia and the villages surrounding Bagmara Bazar of Lalmai Upazila.
About 12,000 liters of milk comes from only five unions – Perul Uttar (north), Perul Dakkhin (south), Bhuloin Uttar (north), Bhuloin Dakkhin (south) and Bagmara – of the upazila.
The remaining 500 litres of milk comes from neighbouring Laksam and Barura upazilas.
Small and medium farmers sell milk at Bagmara Bazar. Although several large farms sell milk in this market, most of them sell milk directly to various businesses in Cumilla and Laksam.
Moksed Mia from Amua village of Lalmai, who brought 25 litres of milk to Bagmara Bazar, said he was now happy with his sales, but sometimes the price of one litre of milk drops to Tk30. This is when Moksed and other farmers incur losses.
A wholesale buyer Akhter Hossain from Meherkul Daulatpur village said he has been collecting milk from this market (Haat) for eight years. He collects 1,200 to 1,300 litres of milk every day.
According to the District Dairy Owners Association, 10,000 people are involved in the dairy industry in the district, of which 5,000 are directly associated with the dairy farms. The remaining 5,000 are milk sellers and middlemen.
Most of the milk is bought by confectionery companies, which buy more than 30,000 litres of milk every day.
Mamunur Rashid, president of the Cumilla Sweetmeat Producers' Association, said the sweetmeat shops in the district need 30,000 litres of milk per day.
They collect milk from the milk markets, and occasionally, farmers deliver milk to them.
Md Abdul Aziz, director of Aziz Dairy Farm in Silonia village and general secretary of the District Dairy Owners Association, said, "The Bagmara milk market has been there for ages. I used to sell milk there before. Now we supply most of our milk directly to Cumilla Sadar. We use the rest to make yogurt and sweetmeat."
Nazrul Islam, the district livestock officer, said, "We have informed the authorities about milk collection and preservation sites in different places. Hopefully, we will be able to launch a project to support the farmers."