During Last Korbani Eid, my uncle, my late mom’s step brother, decided not to sell his bull after he failed to get a better price. He fattened the cow for another years and it now weighs more than 400 kg. But the price was worse than last year. He spent an additional 30,000 taka to make it big and strong.
But Covid had other ideas. The gang of butchers and cow traders who travel from village to village to buy bulls for the markets in Dhaka and Chittagong were nowhere to be seen. The Korbani bull market had crushed much before my uncle and millions of farmers could realise. Still my young uncle was lucky he was able to sell his bull for 170,000 taka – – just 5,000 taka more than last year’s price. His total loss was around 25,000 taka plus the hundreds of hours he spent to prepare the bull’s daily feed and looking after its health.
Across Bangladesh a series of shockingly silent tragedies have stalked the farmers and the poor. Some four million people are trapped by flood water that some officials say would be worst in a decade. The Aman rice crops in some two dozen districts are damaged. Millions of city people, who were hit by the economic meltdown triggered by Covid, could not wire a single farthing back to their families and elderly parents. And hundreds of thousands are expected to return home from the Arab countries after the pandemic and a tanking oil price have decimated jobs and livelihoods in the Middle East.
Kurbani Bull market offered a last of ray of hopes for the local farmers in an otherwise Annus Horribilis, especially for those who are sharecroppers and whose wives work 15 hours a day – – from 5am to 8pm– and seven days a week to rear cows and goats so that it can lift them out of poverty or put their kids back to school. Rice farming no longer makes any money for our farmers. Still millions grow rice just to meet their annual food need. Economic crops such as jute, pulses and onions largely depend on the caprice of the markets. Farmers can get good price one season and the next three seasons he may not even recoup his investment.
In the last decade, Korbani bull market has emerged as the only hope for millions to make some hard cash. BJP government’s tough anti-cow smuggling move may have disproportionately hurt Indian farmers, but it came as boom for Bangladesgi cattle ranchers. Bangladesh beef price doubled as a result of stoppage of entry of millions of Indian cows in Bangladesh. With beef demand soaring in the country, keeping in pace with economic expansion, bull fattening suddenly became a sexy jobs. Young graduates even took up the jobs and their stories are all over the YouTube.
But this year Covid may have struck a deadly blow to this sector. Millions of farmers like my uncle are selling their bulls at 30-40 percent below market prices. The impact will be huge. Many young kids may not get enough money to continue their education. Girls may be married off early. Essential treatment and medicines for the elderly may wait another year, rushing them towards graves. And above all, the dreams of hundreds of thousands to pull themselves out of poverty may crash altogether.