Shamsul Abedin bought two cows and a heifer for around Tk1 lakh 30 years back to switch his career from being a contractor to being a cattle farmer in Bogura.
The decision has transformed his fortune forever. Currently, he has 106 cows on his farm with a market price of around Tk1.5 crore.
The key to his success in the new endeavour has been artificial insemination, which helps to produce improved varieties of cattle that give more milk and meat.
"At first, I used to get seven litres of milk on average from each cow a day. But now it has gone up to 25 litres," Shamsul Abedin says.
He further says many government and private organisations provide semen of improved cattle varieties to the farmers across the country.
"The first three cows that I bought to start the farm were of crossbreed. Later, they were provided semen of Phrygian varieties. In this process, all the cows that have been bred later have become Phrygian, a variety that provides a lot of milk," he says.
According to the Central Cattle Breeding and Dairy Farm in Savar, Dhaka, artificial insemination of cattle added Tk45,224 crore to the national economy in FY21. The government sold semen for more than Tk13.32 crore that year.
During that time, the financial contribution – milk and meat – of artificial insemination conducted by the government to the national economy was Tk21,452 crore with the production of 16.37 lakh cattle.
On the other hand, semen from private companies produced 18.14 lakh cattle with a financial contribution of Tk23,771 crore in the same year.
According to people concerned, the demand for semen of Shahiwal-Phrygian crossbreed bulls is high among farmers. The Central Dairy Farm has more than 150 bulls of different breeds and around 500 doses of semen could be collected from a single bull at a time.
The semen is preserved at a temperature of minus 96 degrees Celsius and could be preserved for 60 to 100 years, they said.
"However, the district offices also have bulls for semen production. There are 20 cattle breeding and dairy farms across the country. The bulls were supplied to the district office from the Central Dairy Farm," said Sajedul Islam, deputy director, Bogura Artificial Insemination Centre.
In Rajshahi, there are 42 breeding bulls for semen collection and in the last three years, they have provided around six lakh doses of semen.
Dr Golam Mustafa, deputy director of Rajshahi Artificial Insemination Centre, said, "Artificial insemination is done to produce more milk and meat. A calf produced from a Shahiwal breed weighs 900kg in 3-4 years. In the same way, a calf of the Phrygian breed weighs about 1,200kg in 4 years. These improved varieties have revolutionised meat and milk production in the country."
According to sources, in 1972, the country produced around 1 lakh tonnes of milk, but the production has gone up to 11.98 lakh tonnes in recent years. Meat production has also increased during this time.
As per the Department of Livestock Services, the annual meat consumption demand in Bangladesh is 7.3 million tonnes, against which the country is producing 7.6 million tonnes.
Artificial insemination has also created employment opportunities for more than 15,000 people who work at the field level.
People concerned said that artificial insemination has brought a silent revolution in the rural areas of the country.
Sabina Begum, a cattle farmer from Sadullahpur, Gaibandha, said, "My family is solely dependent on my farm which has seven cows. I can afford the educational expenses of my children from the income."
Golam Mostafa, a resident of Bhimpur village in Naogaon Sadar, said he buys several bulls of improved varieties every year after Eid-ul-Azha and sells them next year as sacrificial animals. "I can earn Tk1.5 lakh to Tk2 lakh per bull. However, a bull of local variety could only bring a profit of Tk40,000 to Tk60,000."
However, farmers complained that sometimes they cannot get semen of improved varieties from the government. In that case, they have to depend on private companies which increases their production cost.
Shadman Afil Mim, the owner of Aranya Agro, Joypurhat, said, "It is difficult to get semen from the government in our area. For this reason, most of the time we have to rely on private companies. As a result, the semen that we were supposed to get for Tk30 has to be bought from a private company for Tk400 to Tk2,500."
People concerned said the farmers are mostly dependent on the private sector for quality semen at present.
In 1985, Brac started artificial insemination activities at the private level in the country by collecting semen produced by the Department of Livestock. The organisation started semen production by setting up its farm and lab in 2000. Currently, other companies like Ejab Alliance Limited, American Dairy, Lal Teer Livestock Development (BD), and ACI Animal Genetics Limited are carrying out artificial insemination activities in the country.
Kabita Parveen, area manager of Brac Artificial Insemination in Joypurhat, said, "In 2021, around 1.46 lakh doses of semen were sold in Joypurhat and a part of Naogaon. The official price of semen produced by our company is Tk200 per dose."
However, she admitted that the prices of semen are higher at the farm level.
Artificial insemination activities began to expand in the country through the production of liquid semen in 1975 and frozen semen in 1989.
Md Golam Azam, chief scientific officer, Central Cattle Breeding and Dairy Farm, said, "Artificial insemination is one of the means to increase livestock development, alongside milk and meat production. We need to continue proper and planned artificial insemination activities in the country. It would help continue the economic development of the country."