During and after Eid-ul-Azha every year, many news reports are filed on the leather industry – one of the country’s major export sectors – as rawhide of sacrificial animals is its main source of raw material.
But for decades, a parallel multi-million dollar informal export sector has been growing in the country which also derives its raw materials from the remains of slaughtered cattle.
On an average, more than 1.2 million cattle are sacrificed in Dhaka alone during Eid-ul-Azha every year, but very few of their owners know that cattle bones, hooves, horns, tails and even the cow penis – stuffs that they throw away – actually have a healthy demand.
They also do not know that every year thousands of tonnes of animal remains and wastes – scavenged from slaughterhouses and dustbins during Eid-ul-Azha – are informally recycled and exported.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau, in 2014-15 fiscal year, Bangladesh exported animal guts, bladders and stomachs – things that are almost always disposed off as wastes – worth a staggering $14.71m (over Tk114 crore). That same year, export of cattle bones and horns fetched $3.38 million (over Tk26 crore).
What is more staggering is that all this is done without absolutely any financial or industrial support from the government.
Cleaned cow stomachs are used in the pharmaceutical industry. People in China, South Korea, Thailand and Japan make soup with cattle penis. Horns, hooves and teeth are used for making gelatin, camera film and sandpaper, say people involved in this trade.
Hard substances such as teeth and bones are cut with machines to uniform sizes and sold. Local pharmaceutical companies use these to make the shell of capsules while some are exported to India. Hooves and horns are also exported and used for making combs, buttons and X-ray films.
Cow ears are used for making poultry feed. The ears are boiled and dried in the sun, ground into powder and sold to poultry feed traders. Bone dust is also mixed with poultry feed and fertilisers.
There is not a single research or study on this ever-growing informal industry, neither does the government have any information on how many people make a living out of this.
If backed by the government, could do wonders to the country’s economy, given the number of cattle that is slaughtered every year, say the traders.
What will catch one’s attention on a visit to Bhola Mia’s workshop at Hazaribagh that processes and recycles cattle remains is the unbearable stench from the decomposing remains of sacrificial animals. For someone unaccustomed to this, burning eyes come along with the foul smell.
Understandably, three days after Eid, this is the busiest time of the year for some 200 workshops in the city that recycle the animal remains.
There is just one such workshop in Hazaribagh; most of the rest are located in the capital city’s Jatrabari area.
This reporter had a long conversation with middle-aged Bhola Mia, the owner of Abid and Brothers in Hazaribagh.
There is no reason to think that it is a large workshop building; it is just a tin-roofed hut. Most of the processing and recycling is done in the open air.
Workers, without absolutely no protective gear, could be seen processing the materials sitting on the banks of a narrow canal whose water has turned pitch-black from years of industrial pollution for which the Hazaribagh area is infamous for.
Bhola Mia, now in his sixties, told this reporter that he had got into this business as a child right after independence in 1971. Before that, the Marwaris used to control this business. He learned the tricks of the trade from them. Around 40 people work in his workshop.
“Every part of a cow’s body is recycled. Nothing is thrown away unused.
“Many big businessmen are involved with this business. They buy the processed stuff from us. They have bank loan facilities, but we, the small businessmen, do not get any help from the government,” he said.
Bhola employs around 3,000 scavengers against advanced payments to collect animal remains from the dustbins in the capital city. Bones and penises are dried for five to six days before being sold to dealers.
“If we stop collecting bones and horns from the dustbins, just think what the scenario of the city would be. No one will be able to live in the capital city,” Bhola said.
When contacted, Abdur Rouf, director of the Export Promotion Bureau, told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday: “Nothing [of a sacrificial animal] is wasted, everything is exported. These have huge demand in the international market.”
AH Md Maqsood Sinha, executive director of an NGO named Waste Concern, said animal wastes are now being collected informally, but if the entire recycling could be done systematically and scientifically, the environment would benefit.
“Land will not be polluted. Spread of diseases can be minimised and water will not be contaminated. If there were scientific slaughtering houses and people used them, then the collection process would be easier and a huge amount of foreign exchange could be earned. The government should formulate a policy guideline regarding this,” Maqsood said.
He also said that at present, around 30-40% of animal wastes get wasted; so, that could also be reduced.
“The government should promote this business. The Bangladesh Bank has a green banking project and this business can come under that project and flourish,” Maqsood added.
(This article was first published on September 28, 2015)