In 2021, at the peak of the Covid pandemic, some 3.87 lakh sacrificial animals were sold through the government-aggregated special cattle marketplace Digital Haat. This marked a significant increase from its first year's sales of 27,000 animals a year ago.
But, with the demand for contactless trade diminishing, sales through the country's largest online cattle market dropped to 66,000 in 2022, according to the E-commerce Association of Bangladesh, the operating partner of the award-winning digital marketplace.
This year, too, with added inflationary pressure, sales are estimated to drop to around 50,000 animals, the association added.
"As of today, online sales seem to be even slower than what we were expecting," e-Cab Executive Director Jahangir Alam Shovon told The Business Standard on Tuesday.
Posts for sales drastically dropped by almost two-thirds this year, he observed in the last one week after the seasonal marketplace went live.
Alongside the absence of social distancing needs and inflation factors, Jahangir found several other reasons behind the drop nowadays.
The national online marketplace covering the entire country through onboarding the Department of Livestock-enlisted cattle sellers in districts had its biggest role in 2021 due to the pandemic situation, and the platform itself took the responsibility to handle everything, including taking orders, processing payments, delivering the ordered cattle, and settling the seller payments, and it was without fees.
Only the online payment processing fees of less than 2% were being taken for the services, said Jahangir.
Not being a commercial online platform operator, the seasonal service provider in 2022 preferred to become a matchmaker between the sellers onboard and the tech savvy buyers looking for sacrificial animals without going to the chaotic cattle markets.
E-commerce entrepreneurs said upholding the quality commitment in services while keeping prices competitive was still tough in an occasional campaign like Eid-ul-Adha for online platforms.
Also, the extortion on roads and traffic jams on highways before Eid made their job even tougher.
For instance, Daraz, the largest e-commerce platform in the country, opted out of sacrificial cattle sales this year, but it kept sponsoring the Digital Haat, which successfully engaged so many government offices to enjoy the right not to be disturbed.
Jahangir said, the seasonal online cattle sales have been witnessing many practical challenges in terms of holding the confidence of customers despite the platforms' maximum efforts.
For example, despite having over 10,000 small cattle farmers onboard in three years, Digital Haat still struggled to get the delivery of the sold cattle right as, during the transportation, live weight declined by 5-7 Kg, sometimes the small farmers quoted weight was found to be inappropriate, and cattle were stolen before delivery.
Digital Haat, as a government initiative, even counted subsidies for the sake of retaining people's confidence online in cases of commitment breaks by a seller.
However, online cattle selling proved to be a ballgame for some 300-400 specialist firms that grow cattle at farms, develop their online branding and marketing channels, and let niche customers visit the farm and later buy from them to get home delivery just before Eid.
Jahangir estimates Digital Haat accounts for 70-80% of the online sale of sacrificial cattle, and after the trend set since the pandemic, an ever-increasing number of farmers were going online through their own social media pages.
Sadeeq Agro, a pioneering modern cattle farm with great online branding, raised some 1,900 sacrificial animals this year, and 1,700 were already sold by Tuesday.
Its co-founder Mohommed Imran Hossain told TBS that some 174 animals were sold through its bona fide e-commerce channel, where customers saw the cattle at their doorsteps for the first time and most of the payments were contactless. In 2022, the number was 150, while in 2021, it surged to a peak near a thousand.
The 2021 e-commerce scam by firms like Evaly, E-orange, and Dhamaka did hit consumers' confidence, he added.
Bengal Meet, the largest gourmet butcher chain in the country, scientifically slaughters 50-60 animals every day, and it delivered one to two dozen live cattle during Eid-Ul-Adha.
"We don't promote delivery of live cattle as our cold chain efficiency offers something better to the niche customers who want a hassle-free experience—slaughtering, processing, and delivering meat from sacrificial animals," said Shaikh Imran Aziz, head of marketing at Bengal Meat.
Its capacity to serve some 500 such customers in Eid-ul-Adha was exhausted in 2021; that dropped below 350 last year, and this year was still sluggish.
Syed Mohammad Kamal, country manager of Mastercard, told TBS a few of the online cattle sales were settled digitally as people still prefer cash or bank payments, while farms like Sadeeq Agro receive more POS payments.
The Smart Bangladesh, Smart Haat project that has been onboarding cattle sellers as digital payment merchants since 2022 saw Tk33 crore in digital payments at six traditional haats in Dhaka last year, and the central bank eyes Tk150 crore digital payments this year at 10 haats in Dhaka and Chattogram.
The digital future
The ups and downs at the nascent stage of digital adoption in the country would not remain a permanent problem, said both the e-commerce and farming people.
For instance, software entrepreneur Manjur, who built an integrated farmhouse at Trishal, Mymensingh, to raise cattle, culture fish, and grow vegetables and fruits, sold 10 cows this year, and he would grow a hundred cows next year as the website of his farm Jawad Agro drew many customers.
"The trust being built would fuel the scale," he believes, following the response from his first year clients of the cattle firm.
Sadeeq Agro's Mohommed Imran Hossain, also the president of the Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association (DFA), said customers who trusted a farm in terms of quality, safety, and pricing would speak for the brand, and online sales would keep growing in coming years as an increasing number of people are preferring hassle-free solutions to enjoy their Eid-Ul-Azha holidays.
His firm is serving over 350 customers this year by getting sacrificial animals slaughtered and the meat delivered.
e-Cab's Jahangir said the DFA gave a pricing benchmark based on the size of the animals, and online buyer-sellers were negotiating at around the benchmark, while traditional haats during Eid-ul-Azha see much volatility in prices, which either hurts the buyer or the seller.
For example, cows smaller than 100 kg are being priced at Tk450 per kg of live weight, which is Tk550 for bigger ones with a total weight of over 500 kg.
Many people want to get rid of the uncertainties at the traditional seasonal cattle haats and order from an organised online seller, says Jahangir.
Many this year were also looking for forward buying from their trusted farms, and the trend was only strengthening, which was also a reason behind lower sales from online platforms.
The Department of Livestock estimates that there are over 21 lakh surplus sacrificial animals in the country this year, as 1.03 crore was the estimated demand against the potential supply of 1.25 crore.
Of the supply, some 48 lakh were cows and buffaloes and 60 lakh were goats and sheep.
Cows and bulls account for around 80% of the online sacrificial cattle sales, according to e-Cab.