Matia Rahman, a livestock farmer, brought 42 cows from Chuadanga to Gabtoli cattle market in Dhaka, but she could sell only one cow and had to take back the rest to her farm.
"The price of cows dropped two days before Eid. If I sold my cattle for the prevailing price, I would lose about Tk60-70 lakh. So, I brought them back even though it cost me an additional Tk3 lakh," Matia, entrepreneur of Basar Dairy Farm, told The Business Standard.
She had to sell the cow at a price lower than the cost of farming to cover the travel and food expenses of the labourers. She has a debt of Tk1 crore, which she was planning to repay by selling the cows, but now does not know what to do next.
Thousands of farmers, like Matia, who have raised animals all year round with loans from various sources for the purpose of Eid-ul-Adha, are in dire straits as they could not sell their livestock due to the low demand amid the pandemic.
Farmers and seasonal cattle traders from different districts including Manikganj, Pabna, Chuadanga, Jhenaidah, Kushtia, and Jashore said the demand for small- and medium-sized cows was high this time, while there was not much demand for the bigger ones. As a result, 50-90% of the big cows brought by the farmers to the markets in Dhaka have remained unsold.
Besides, about 50% of all the cows brought by the farmers to Dhaka for sale have remained unsold on an average, said the farmers.
According to the government data, the number of cows, buffaloes, goats and sheep suitable for sacrifice this year was around 1.19 crore, but, the Department of Livestock Services has not yet received the statistics about the number of cows sold during this Eid season.
According to the Department of Livestock Services, around 1.18 crore cows were ready for the cattle markets, out of which 94.5 lakh were sold. The number of animals sacrificed last year was low too because of the Covid-19 crisis.
The number of cattle sacrificed in 2018 and 2019 was over 1.05 crore and 1.06 lakh respectively.
People involved in the sector including farmers, traders and the Department of Livestock officials, said the number of animal sacrifices this year could be at least one-third or less than that in other years.
Dr Sheikh Azizur Rahman, director general of the Department of Livestock, told TBS that the exact figure regarding this has not been compiled yet. It will be known next week.
Omar Faruq, owner of Babu Cattle Agro in Manikganj, brought 60 cows to the Gabtali market from where he sold 10.
He said, "I cannot sell a cow worth Tk3 lakh for Tk2 lakh after rearing it for one year."
He said he raised cows throughout the year with a bank loan of Tk50 lakh to sell those before the Eid-ul-Adha.
Shah Mohammad Emran, general secretary of the Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association, told TBS, "About 50% of the big cows brought by the farmers to Dhaka have remained unsold. The condition of the farmers who took bank loans to raise cows on costly feed is deplorable."
"However, most of the small and medium cows have been sold," he said.
The farmer leader also said there were no Indian cows in the Dhaka markets this year like the previous years.
The farmers said those who spent lakhs of taka to bring their cows to Dhaka, but could not sell them, will face a difficult time to rear their cows now, because if they do not repay the previous bank loans, they would not get a new loan. On the other hand, the price of cow feed is also very high.
Rafiqul Islam Al Yassin, a farmer from Narsingdi, brought 26 cows to Dhaka's Hazaribagh market. He sold the cows which cost Tk1.6 lakh each for Tk1.2 lakh. He also brought back six cows to the farm.
He said, "There was no way out without selling cows at a loss, because I was not in a position to raise so many cows."
Not only the farmers, but also the seasonal traders are in a difficult situation.
Abdul Khaleq from Meherpur buys cows every year and brings them to Dhaka and sells them. "We had to sell our cows at a nominal price. 50-60% of the cows we brought to Dhaka were sold. We had to bring back the rest," he said.
The economists said the demand for cattle was low for a number of reasons. Many people have lost their jobs or closed their businesses amid the pandemic. As a result, they did not have any money and they could not offer sacrifices. Many industrialists and political leaders used to sacrifice more than one cattle and distribute the meat among people, but they did not do so this year due to the pandemic.
Dr Ahsan H Mansur, executive director at the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, told TBS, "Big industrialists and political leaders used to buy five to six cows, but this time they may have sacrificed only one cow. This year there was no tendency to show-off big cows."
"Many of those who went to the cattle market with a large group might not have gone there, fearing Covid-19," he continued.
According to the Department of Livestock Services, currently there are around 6.98 lakh livestock farmers in the country.
Although the cows were not sold in the cattle markets, it has been reported that a lot of cows have been sold online this year.
According to the Department of Livestock, 3.87 lakh animals worth Tk2,735 crore have been sold in the government-sponsored online market in the 19 days before Eid.