Farmer Jahangir Alam arrived at Dhaka’s makeshift cattle market in Tejgaon with four cows, hoping to reap the benefit of his long hard work ahead of Eid ul-Adha when thousands of cattle are sacrificed in mainly Muslim Bangladesh.
By Saturday, two days before the second-largest Muslim festival, Jahangir sold two of his cows, each fetching 75,000 Bangladeshi taka (about $900).
Jahangir, 42, was confident that despite a good supply of cattle, his remaining two cows, which were relatively big, would be sold before the market closed.
“These are my earnings of two years. I bought these cows in 2017 when they were small and raised them since then in a small shed that I built next to my house,” said Jahangir, who came from central Jamalpur district.
Jahangir said he used to make his living by growing rice, jute and mustard on one acre of land he inherited from his father before he thought of raising some cows some years ago.
“It was tough to live with my little earnings from rice and jute cultivation. In 2015, I started raising two cows and made a good profit. Then in 2017, I doubled my number of cows. Now I am really happy,” he said.
Jahangir’s transformation from a traditional farmer to a cattle farmer coincided with a challenging period for Bangladesh when the country was struggling to meet its increasing demand for meat after India launched a crackdown on illegal beef smuggling across the border.
Bangladesh shares a porous 4,096-kilometer border with India, which was used for cattle smuggling for years, a business that represented approximately 40 percent of national consumption in the country.
But the arrival of the Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India in mid-2014 triggered a series of measures across the country to protect sacred cows as it hardened the penalties for the consumption of beef in several regions.
India’s then-home minister Rajnath Singh on April 2015 asked the Border Security Force (BSF) to step up the vigil at the border to stop cattle smuggling to Bangladesh so that the people “stop eating beef.”
The order has proved useful in some ways as the BSF seized 101,751 heads of cattle in 2014, 153,602 in 2015 and 168,801 during 2016, according to a report published by The Hindu newspaper quoting India’s home ministry.
Bangladesh authorities also acknowledged that the illegal border trade has now ceased after stringent Indian measures.
Director-General of Bangladesh Livestock Department Hiresh Ranjan Bhowmik told EFE that while 2.6 million cows came from India to Bangladesh in 2013, it was only 92,000 in 2019 up till July.
“The arrival of cows started getting reduced every year and this year until July only 92,000 cows came. We are now self-reliant for meat, no way dependant on Indian cows,” he said.
Bhowmik said several measures taken by Bangladesh authorities helped the country revolutionize the livestock sector, so much so that it is now looking to export beef in Europe within the next three years.
“When India said they won’t allow cow trading, we took it as a challenge,” said Bhowmik.
“We motivated our farmers, trained them and provided logistical support for cow fattening. Once it started giving fruit, we did not have to encourage people much, they came to it on their own,” he said.
Bangladesh has now over 550,000 organized farmers alongside the traditional farmers who raise one or two cows, Bhowmik said.
“In the past, farmers used their cows for cultivating. Now the traditional form of cultivation has gone with the arrival of new technology. Farmers use female cows for milking and raise the males for selling them mostly during Eid ul-Adha,” he said.
Bhowmik added that Bangladesh has now started exporting meat on a limited scale but will be able to do it on a large scale in the near future with the current growth rate of production.
“Our main drawback for export is some diseases. Because of these diseases in many countries, we cannot export. We have also taken a program to control the diseases… once it is done we are hopeful we can enter in Europe and other countries with our meat in coming three years,” he said.
The government’s livestock department reported that Bangladesh now has 11,588,923 heads of cattle ready for sacrificing in Eid ul-Adha, which included 4,457,000 cows and buffaloes.
This is slightly higher than an estimated total demand of 11 million heads of cattle during Eid, said Kazi Wasi Uddin, the acting secretary of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock.
The increasing production of cattle has created a big impact on the country’s rural economy as it has also helped Bangladesh alleviate poverty, Wasi said.
“The rural economy has been completely changed in recent years. After cross-breeding, farmers can get up to 22 litres of milk daily from a cow,” he said.
“The annual income from milking of a cow is equivalent to prices of rice they grow on 12 acres land. They are also getting a good price by selling male cows for meat,” he added.
The increased activities also attracted many educated people to cow farming, said Imran Hossain, the president of Bangladesh Dairy Farmers Association.
Imran is the owner of Bangladesh’s largest dairy farm Sadeq Agro, which alone sold 1,100 cows during this Eid season.
“In our country, alongside milk, there is a lot of demand for beef. In India, there is a demand for milk, but no demand for beef. We have a huge demand of both,” he said.
“Many educated people realized this and are coming into this business now. We have 50,000 people join this business recently who are all educated, many of them are graduates,” he said.
Not everything is rosy however for the growing sector, pointed out economist Ahsan H. Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh.
“In Bangladesh, the cost of production is higher because we have to buy the feed at a higher cost. So the price of beef is still high and the consumer has to pay it,” he said.
“But at the same time, it is being domestically produced. After India imposed restrictions we had to find a substitute and we got a better substitute actually, which is the best thing,” added Mansur.