That Bangladeshis can do it successfully, given the 'do-it-yourself know-how', is amply evident from successes in many sectors including poultry. Today, entrepreneurs are poised to export poultry products. Thanks to recent initiatives taken by the government and the private sector, livestock too is gradually gaining ground in the country. Restriction on cattle flow from the neighbouring country has acted as a boon for the country in its effort to become self-sufficient in milk and beef production. There is a growing realisation now that cattle farming is profitable and has huge potential to fetch huge foreign currencies through exports of leather and footwear and halal meat.
In fact, replacement of draught animals by power tillers in tilling lands across Bangladesh has widened the scope greatly for rearing cows and goats on commercial basis to meet the needs for meat and milk. Trends hint at positive developments in this regard. If not, how could Bangladesh meet its need for sacrificial animals during last year's Eid-ul Azha? The year before, that is 2015, devotees, traders and the government were extremely concerned about the drying up of flow of animals from across the border during the Eid. But there was no hue and cry in 2016 as domestic supply was adequate. It means, farmers started rearing cows and goats, seizing incentives provided in the country.
The Department of Livestock Services (DLS) says a revolution has been taking place in the sector in recent times. Many educated unemployed youths have started farming for dairy products and fattening cattle in order to become self-reliant. The trend started after farmers made profits following the crisis in cattle supply from India. According to statistics of DLS, nearly 8.8 million cattle are slaughtered annually in Bangladesh, of which almost 50 per cent or even more are slaughtered during the Eid-ul-Azha. In the past, over two million cattle were informally traded through the borders of Bangladesh and India every year due to lax monitoring. It accounted for nearly $1 billion annual business.
It was due to fall in supply of cattle from across the border, beef prices rose in the domestic market in Bangladesh. This has encouraged local farmers to rear cattle. The DLS hopes that locally reared and fattened cattle would be enough to meet Bangladesh's demand for meat. Apart from areas adjacent to Dhaka, farmers in various other districts, particularly in Pabna, Sirajganj, Nilphamari and Patuakhali, are rearing and fattening cows and bulls for commercial purposes. The number of cattle being fattened has increased 10 per cent from last year to 3.3 million, says official statistics. The supply of 4.4 million locally reared cattle would be around 80 per cent of the total demand which DLS and the association of tanners, meat, hide and skin merchants estimate at five to six million. The department says the total number of cattle in Bangladesh now increases every year. The number rose to 23.7 million in fiscal 2015-16 from 23.6 million the previous year. Production of beef and milk also increased. The total milk production rose four per cent to 7.27 million tonnes in fiscal 2015-16 from 6.97 million tonnes the previous year. However, deficit remains. For example, milk deficiency stood at 74.16 lakh tonnes in fiscal 2015-16, said the department.
The Bangladesh Bank deserves thanks for arranging easy-term loans for the country's livestock farmers. Thirteen commercial banks and financial institutions have launched low-cost loans for livestock farmers, aiming to boost local production and help meet the need for meat and cut the country's dependence on imported milk. The central bank formed the fund, to encourage dairy farming and cut malnutrition and milk powder import bills. But then women and marginal farmers should be prioritised in extending loans, and the upazila office of the livestock services department should oversee the process to ensure proper use of the money on the borrowers' part.
There must now be an increased focus on the need for proper knowledge management in the livestock sector. The country is lagging far behind in this regard. Livestock farmers do not have much knowledge about various veterinary supports, particularly breeding and cross breeding, quality of milk, feed and financial services. The existing government support only cover 50-60 per cent of the sector due to resource constraints. There is no efficient service management system.
The government should take an initiative to prevent livestock diseases, such as foot and mouth diseases and worm, as meat and milk production significantly decreases when cattle are attacked by such diseases. Farmers need to be made aware of the hygienic practices of cattle rearing.
Veteran expert on livestock Ainul Haque, says, "People need to be encouraged to have more milk. At present per capita milk intake is only 150ml while the required amount is 250 ml." Considering the importance of knowledge management, the government should take various initiatives to provide training for dairy farmers at the grassroots level. Training should shed light on various aspects of dairy production such as semen, feed, and vaccines. The government can bring attention of young people by imparting training on livestock healthcare which can be a dual initiative for eradicating unemployment and fulfilling the need for skilled workforce in livestock healthcare.