Mechanised power tillers have virtually marked an end to rearing of cattle as draught animals in rural areas of Bangladesh. Once, every rural household had two to three cattle to till its lands. But today farmers are no more called 'men behind the ploughs'. Ploughs of today are now just machines powered by diesel, not cows or buffaloes. Only one power tiller outlives the utility of 50-100 cows or buffaloes in a village. But then this has also opened up huge opportunities for commercial livestock farming as the lands on which these animals were once reared are now vacant.
The great uncertainty during the Eid-ul Azha of 2015 over availability of Indian sacrificial animals in fact came as a blessing in disguise. Such a blessing surfaced during this year's festival as there was no worry at all over supply of home-grown animals. The crisis of 2015, then mitigated partially by the government by allowing liberal imports of animals from Myanmar, seemingly led people in vast rural areas to turn to livestock farming with low-cost bank loans, facilitated by the government. That was why the Eid-ul-Azha of 2016 was celebrated with gusto without any tension although Indian animals started flooding the markets at a much later stage. Bangladeshis are resilient and they need only guidelines of experts and the government to stand on their own feet. The speedy rural transformation, as we see today, can be attributed to such resilience of theirs with a little support of the government.
There is no dearth of places in the country for promoting livestock. Vast areas in different districts are still remaining fallow. The northwestern region in particular has an enormous prospect of expanding the livestock sector through best uses of existing natural resources. In addition to meeting the nutritional deficit, especially meat and milk in the region, the livestock rearing has been very helpful for increasing soil nutrient, which is declining gradually due to indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers.
Production of good breed cattle from existing indigenous stock by applying artificial breeding technology particularly Shahiwal and local cattle cross-breeding is now very essential. Enormous prospects are there in the dairy farm sector. Thousands of litres of milk are now being produced daily in eight districts including Rajshahi and Natore but lack of adequate marketing facilities and milk processing industries is hindering the desired growth of the sector. Setting up of more dairy farms and milk processing factories could contribute a lot to changing the economic conditions of the common people and alleviating poverty and eradicating monga (scarcity) once for all. The dairy farmers, who were in distress and frustration in the eight districts and about to close their farms due to frequent loss even a few years back, are now getting profit by selling their cow milk by dint of some effective measures in this regard.
It is now time for setting up artificial insemination centres at village level for developing cattle varieties using technology. At present, the country has limited artificial insemination centres for developing cattle varieties at the upazila level and there is an acute shortage of manpower at these centres to cover the remote areas with technology. Thanks to the artificial insemination technology, the country's total cattle-head population was 33.3 million, milk production was 9,40,000 metric tons and meat production was around 6,70,000 metric tons in 1990. In 2014, the country's cattle-head population reached 53.6 million, milk production at 6.09 million metric tons and meat production jumped to 4.52 million metric tons.
Still the country has acute shortage of milk and meat. The annual milk deficiency is around 7.93 million metric tons against total demand of 14.02 million metric tons. On the other hand, the country's annual meat deficiency is around 2.21 million metric tons against the demand of 6.73 tons, which need to be increased by using the artificial insemination technology at the grassroots level.
The contribution of livestock to the national economy is no less important; it is about 2.67 per cent with an annual 3.98 per cent growth as cattle has multipurpose functions. It meets national demand for milk and meat. Cow dung is used as manure and fuel, and a substrate for methane production. Cattle hides and skin are used for clothing, bags and shoes. Livestock also contributes about 17.15 per cent to overall agriculture production. The country earns Tk 150 billion from livestock a year with leather and leather products constituting about 4.31 per cent of the country's overall export earnings.
The government should extend more easy-term loans as well as provide duty-free privileges for local dairy processors to import capital machinery, vehicles and packaging materials. Vaccines against cattle diseases should also be made easily available. The livestock sector should be given waiver from all sorts of duty and taxes to attract new investment to let the sector flourish. Subsidy should be given for cattle feed so that farmers can keep milk production cost low. An integrated policy support will contribute to faster growth of the dairy industry as India has become self-sufficient in milk production with policy support from its government. In fact, the dairy industry has the potential to grow faster if it gets support like poultry.