To meet the rising demand for meat, the government took an initiative to produce the Brahman breed of cows a decade ago but failed to spread it across the country.
Before the variety could be released by the authorities for breeding at the farmer level following its experimental production, farmers started artificial insemination of the beef breed cattle in a chaotic manner.
Unable to control this risky practice by the farmers, the government has eventually moved away from its initiative to reproduce Brahman cows in the country.
The Department of Livestock Services said it was unable to strike a balance between the government's target of milk production and the policy adopted to improve beef breeds. This is because there were fears that uncontrolled breeding of Brahman cows may reduce milk production.
Against this backdrop, the Department of Livestock has stopped the production and import of Brahman cattle, import of semen of Brahman bulls and its artificial insemination.
It is learned that the livestock department started experimental reproduction of Brahman cattle in 2008 under the Beef Cattle Development Project. The project ran until 2017.
As Brahman cows grow fast, farmers became very much interested in producing the breed. As a result, farms outside the project also started artificial insemination in a haphazard manner that went beyond the control of the Department of Livestock.
When a maximum of 200 kgs of meat can be obtained from a two-year-old native cow, 600-800 kgs can be obtained from a Brahman cow of similar age.
While evaluating the project, the government found that some greedy government and private officials involved in artificial insemination were applying Brahman semen on cows beyond those listed for the project, which was completely prohibited and the government had not yet allowed its production at the private level.
And this practice started to impact milk production in the country.
At the government and private level, about one lakh people work with artificial insemination.
It is learned that no milk is obtained from cows born through the insemination of native cows with Brahman semen. This is where milk production is feared to be disrupted.
On the other hand, the government has set a target to raise milk production in the country to 2 crore tonnes by 2031 which currently stands at 1.6 crore tonnes.
From then on, policymakers in the livestock sector began to curb the spread of Brahman cattle. The Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute has now conserved several thousand samples of imported Brahman semen without using them.
Speaking on this matter, Dr Bhabotosh Kanti Sarker, Director (AI), AI Section, DLS, said, "The government had a plan to open Brahman production to the farmer level once the project ends. But, the situation reached such a stage that its production had to be banned instead. This is because some unscrupulous artificial insemination officers started to apply Brahman on a large scale going outside the project in 2016 and 2017."
"Female cattle born through the insemination of indigenous cows with semen of Brahman bulls do not give milk. Widespread productions of Brahman cattle therefore will threaten milk output in the country. That is why the government has moved away from Brahman production and the production has not been opened at the farmer level."
According to the Department of Livestock, under the Beef Cattle Development Project started in 2008, artificial insemination using Brahman semen was conducted in 11 upazilas for three years on a pilot basis.
Later in the 2013-14 fiscal year, 60,000 samples of Brahman semen were imported and were applied on native cows.
In the 2016-17 financial year, the project was expanded to 185 upazilas in 48 districts.
It is learned that some farmers are still keeping Brahman breed cows. Again many importers are bringing Brahman cows in the country under false declaration.
Farmers claimed no government law has banned the import of Brahman cattle.
The Department of Livestock, however, said the import of Brhman has been banned through the national policy for artificial insemination activities at the private level. However, anyone can import it for the purpose of research, subject to the permission of the government.
Dhaka Customs House authorities seized 16 Brahman cows at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in the capital on 6 July. The cows were imported from the US without prior permission from the authorities. The seized cows are now kept at the Savar Dairy Farm in the custody of the Livestock Department.
Contacted, Dr Shaikh Azizur Rahman, director general to the Department of Livestock Services (DLS), said, "Import of such cattle breed requires permission beforehand. But the importer did not take it."
"We have an expert team here. If the importer can justify his cause and convince the team, only then we would approve releasing the cows."
He said a number of importers previously brought in Brahman cows with false declarations.
Md Abdus Sadek, deputy commissioner (preventive) of Dhaka Customs House, said, "Such imports require a quarantine certificate and a no objection certificate from the livestock services department. But the importer is yet to come up with the papers."
Imran Hossain, owner of Sadek Agro, said since some farms brought in the breed previously, they also did so. "Yes, we did not take the permission beforehand. Now we are trying to get that approval for releasing the cows," said the importer.
According to some cattle rearers, the government is not allowing them to import Brahman cows despite the breed being popular worldwide for meat. The public officials believe the uncontrolled breeding of the variety in Bangladesh would affect dairy production, which the cattle raisers said is "completely wrong".
Cattle rearers argued they want the breed for red meat production as dairy production is a separate issue which needs to be addressed separately.
Livestock services department officials said they are conducting research on local varieties to improve the meat production. But the government is emphasising milk and dairy productions – that means there is no scope to underplay the dairy sector.