Published 10 Jul,2020 via The Financial Express - "If I fail to sell my cattle this Eid, I'm going to suffer a devastating loss. I've already invested so much in this business. It's going to be hard for me to provide for my family," lamented Mokbul Mollah, a cattle farmer from Faridpur who I talked with a few days ago.
Mokbul sold nine heads of cattle for Eid-ul-Adha last year and made a profit of BDT 270,000. He then took out a loan of BDT 500,000 and reared 17 cattle to sell those during this year's Eid-ul-Adha. In absence of clear guidance and, worse, due to misinformation floating around about Eid-ul-Adha markets in the midst of Covid-19, Mokbul now fears the worst.
Over half a million farmers in Bangladesh rear beef-cattle for Eid-ul-Adha every year as a major income-generating activity, and this year, they are fearing a bleak market prospect due to Covid-19. In 2019, around 11.8 million livestock were reared across the country mainly to be sold as sacrificial animals and this year too, the forecast for sales was indicated to be similar.
The livestock sector has been hit hard by Covid-19, with farmers suffering huge economic losses and livestock enterprises struggling with reduced sales. A recent study by an international development organisation showed that dairy and beef cattle farmers are experiencing a 70 per cent change in income from livestock and that enterprises have suffered an average of 42 per cent decrease in sales. Increased costs and difficulties in accessing feed or fodder have caused farmers to slow down feeding, a move that impacted livestock productivity. This low productivity has put the annual beef cattle industry at risk, which is estimated at USD 6 billion.
Covid-19 has also had profound impacts on financial service providers for livestock. The pandemic has struck at the very core of their business models. The government's policy of declaring loan repayment holidays until the end of June, meaning borrowers won't have to repay loan installments until that time, significantly impacted the business model in terms of cash flow and liquidity crisis. In addition, a large portion of microfinance institutions' portfolios are loans to cattle farmers. These loans are usually short-term loans with repayments made after the cattle are sold. With the uncertainties surrounding the farmers' ability to sell their livestock during Eid-ul-Adha, these institutions are concerned about the huge amount of default loans that could further increase their likelihood of facing a liquidity crisis. As a result, financial services required for future investment are also at stake.
Customers are concerned about the hygiene and safety protocols, which may prevent them from visiting live cattle markets and handling animals and meat. Never before has there been such a growing demand for digital solutions for the purchase and sale of cattle during the Eid-ul-Adha as we have been experiencing in the last 2-3 years. Like the e-commerce solutions ready to capitalize on the market opportunity and reach more customers is growing, so are the options that can save farmers from the losses. The huge amount of cash transactions normally taking place at the cattle markets increase the risk of transmission between traders and customers as well. To facilitate payments and mitigate this risk, digital tools such as mobile money transfer is considered to be the main solution. However we need supporting policies and regulation in practice to govern these transactions
As the Eid-ul-Adha is only three weeks away, stakeholders need a collaborative effort to support safe and functioning markets, while maximizing safety precautions to limit Covid-19 transmission. We should not wait for the major cattle markets to start right before the Eid. A significant amount of trade is already taking place in the local markets, and all market and regulatory actors need to come forward to support farmers and traders with the help of safe and efficient markets in order to tide over the crisis. Some of the points to take into consideration for this year's Eid-ul-Adha are:
- The policy-makers should enable the private sector, along with the Department of Livestock Services, to ensure that farmers have access to the required inputs and services in order to achieve the full productivity potential of their livestock before the Eid.
- Relevant authorities need to draw a guideline for the market management committees and send it speedily to all the parties involved bearing clear instructions on the operation of the cattle markets, including the Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
- There is an urgent need to dispel misinformation about the cattle markets among the farmers and provide them with correct information on how they will operate under the Covid-19 crisis. The authorities can integrate other civil society organisations and NGOs to ensure the flow of correct information to both the farmers and other market actors.
- City Corporations and the market committees need to build customers' trust and encourage them to visit cattle markets by putting in place measures that minimize health risks, ensure a safe market and availability of healthy cattle from reliable sources. Traders and customers in the markets need to strictly follow the health safety guidelines. Some measures that can be taken to ensure safe marketplaces could include deploying veterinary personnel, installing body temperature checks, putting markers for social distancing, regularly cleaning and disinfecting markets, installing handwashing facilities, sharing public health messages to restrict Covid-19 spread, etc.
- The government and regulatory authorities need to emphasize the adoption of digital services and ICT platforms for cattle trading and enable more farmers, traders, customers and other stakeholders to access the platforms.
- To minimize the massive risks associated with cash transactions, authorities need to look for alternative modes of transaction. If Bangladesh Bank can provide mobile money service providers clear directions and offer them some flexibility in terms of the number of transactions, transaction limits, etc., this will ensure safe and secure transactions during this crisis. Adoption of e-wallets among the traders can also be encouraged.
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