It is also the most expensive in South Asia, with Pakistan and India have much lower prices
Beef and mutton prices have shot up in Bangladesh in the last six to seven years despite enviable success in the livestock sector against the background of the Indian ban on cattle exports.
After the BJP came to power in 2014, the Modi government imposed a ban on export of cattle to Bangladesh and that helped the country develop its livestock sector to a great extent, said a dairy farm owner.
The price of one kg of beef is about Tk600-630 in Dhaka’s markets, while mutton sells for Tk800-900 per kg.
“Beef and mutton have become very expensive for consumers with limited income,” said Taswar Ahmad, a small trader.
In fact, prices in Bangladesh are higher than the international market and also than prices in both neighbouring India and Pakistan.
“The average price of per kg beef in the international market is around $5.00-$5.50, but in Bangladesh it is around $7.00-$7.50,” said Mohammad Shah Emran, general secretary of the Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association (BDFA).
In India, the price of buffalo meat is INR180-220 per kg, which is approximately Tk200-255, said a Bangladeshi diplomat working in New Delhi. And mutton costs INR600 per kg, which is approximately Tk700.
“The price of beef is around PKR550 per kg in in Islamabad, close to Tk290-300, and price of mutton per kg is PKR1,000 — around Tk500,” Mostofa Jamil, first secretary of the Bangladesh High Commission in Islamabad, told Dhaka Tribune.
Prior to the ban on cattle exports in 2014, over 2 million cows were smuggled into Bangladesh every year. Back then, per kg price of meat in 2014 was hovering around Tk240 and Tk260 in Bangladesh, according to available data.
The global average prices of beef were $4.63 in FY2014-15 — about Tk360 per kg based on Bangladesh Bank's exchange rate at the time.
Some government steps and incentives can help reduce meat prices by 20-25% in Bangladesh, according to Shah Emran.
“The scarcity of land is also a major factor behind the high prices of beef and mutton. Geographically, both India and Pakistan are respectively 25 and seven times bigger than Bangladesh. So green grass is available in plenty,” he said.
“The price of animal feed is also higher in Bangladesh. But the prices of this product will come down if TCB imports the commodity and distributes that among farmers,” said Emran.
He also proposed to impose a ban on soybean to ensure local supply of the product to the dairy farms.
“The price of electricity in case of dairy farms is commercial and should have a special rate like households have in Bangladesh. As the present government policy encourages cow rearing, the price of the electricity should be normal, not commercial,” the BDFA general secretary further said.
Demanding financial support from the government for the livestock sector, he added that the government should develop a system to disburse soft loans at say 3-4% interest to dairy farmers.
He also said the government should encourage import of breeds like Brahman, Simental and Angus into the country to increase production of meat.
The same can be applied to goats too, Emran explained.
For instance, a male adult Black Bengal goat, found in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam, North Orissa and Bangladesh, weighs about 18-20kg while female adults weigh 15-18kg.
“The government should allow import of African breeds, such as the Boer or Kalahari, and Indian breeds like the Totapuri and Jamunapari, to increase production of mutton,” the dairy association leader said.
One hybrid goat can weigh 50-60kg compared to the smaller traditional Black Bengal goat, he added.
The path to self-sufficiency
In FY2009-10, Bangladesh produced about 1.3 million tonnes of meat, which increased to over 7.5 million tonnes in FY2019-20, according to data by the Department of Livestock Services.
Cattle farming took off among the educated younger population in the country since the Indian export ban.
“This ended up making Bangladesh self-sufficient in cattle rearing,” Shaikh Azizur Rahman, director general of the Department of Livestock Services (DLS), said while talking to the press.
"Before, we had to rely on Indian cows during Qurbani season, but locally reared bulls can meet local demand during Eid celebrations," he added.
Prior to India's increased vigilance, a lion's share of cattle used to be raised using traditional methods by farmers in villages.
But now many educated youths and traditional farmers have started putting emphasis on high quality breeds through artificial insemination.
According to the livestock department, which started gathering statistics on fattened bulls a couple of years ago, there were 3.34 million fattened bulls in the country in 2017.
It increased by around 16% to 3.86 million in 2021.
Statistics from the National Board of Revenue (NBR) show that the number of cattle brought over informally over the borders from India was 2.1 million in FY2013-14.
Six years down the line, the flow dipped 90%. In FY2019-20, the figure was only 200,000, down from 542,000 the previous year.
"We want to thank the Indian government as it helped the local livestock industry flourish," said Rahman.
According to the Department of Livestock Services, there are 698,000 cattle farmers in Bangladesh, up from 300,000 in 2015.
“Realizing the potential of this sector, a good number of people are entering this business now. Some 50,000 people have joined this business recently who are all educated, many of them are graduates,” said economist Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh.
“Not everything is rosy however for the growing sector,” he pointed out.
“In Bangladesh the cost of production is higher because we have to buy the feed at a higher cost. So, the price of beef is still high and the consumer has to pay it,” he said.
“But at the same time, it is being domestically produced. After India imposed a ban on export of cattle, we had to find a substitute and we got a better substitute actually, which is the best thing,” added Mansur.
Bengal Meat CEO AFM Asif said the demand for meat has been rising in line with the growth of the economy.
“But supply is not increasing at the same pace as demand,” he said
Bulk of the domestic requirement for meat is met by poultry, according to industry insiders.
Asif said that although cattle rearing is on the rise, it is not adequate to influence prices yet.
“Development of breeds to improve per cow meat production is needed,” he said.
Officials at the Department of Livestock Services said 12 million sacrificial animals, including 4.54 million cows and buffaloes, were available for Eid this year compared to 11.8 million last year.
The number of goats and sheep were 7.33 million while that of other kinds of livestock was 4,765.
Quoting their official database, the department’s Assistant Director (Farm) Dr ABM Khaleduzzaman said more than half a million cattle farmers rear sacrificial animals to sell them at Eid-ul-Azha markets.
The high price of fodder for the cattle is another reason for the high price of cattle as farmers have spent Tk400 to Tk500 per sack of 37 kg feed for the last four months, he added.