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Dairy farmers hit hard by virus lockdown in BD

14 April 2020 bdnews24.com

Around 350,000 dairy farmers across Bangladesh are struggling to survive as the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak has thrown their businesses into disarray.
The shutdown has left them staring at huge financial losses with around 27,000 tonnes of milk going unsold each day, which the farmers can't afford to throw away. In some areas, the price of milk is cheaper than water while farmers are also finding it hard to procure cattle feed.
Experts recommended immediate cash incentives for farmers and urged processing companies to turn their dairy produce into powdered milk to keep the sector afloat.
On the other hand, noted milk processing companies also claimed to be in trouble as the market has shrunk due to the shutdown. They urged the government to take necessary steps to ensure a smooth supply of dairy products, a household staple in the country.
"Dairy farms in the country are in a bad shape," Shah Imran, president of Bangladesh Dairy Owners Association(BDOA), told bdnews24.com.
Kashem Ali, owner of Marsh Agro in Faridpur's Boalmari, gave a vivid picture of the current plight of dairy farmers. He has cut in half the food for his livestock, which includes 20 cows, four bulls and a few calves.
"We're facing many different problems. Earlier, we used to supply milk mostly to sweet shops. Those shops are now closed. I tried to sell some milk in some other shops in urban areas but the price has dropped by almost a third," said Kashem.
On top of that, it is now harder to get grains used as cattle feed while access to veterinarians has also been lost, he said.
"We're making cream from the unsold milk and will make ghee later. I can sell the cream after two months but I need the cash now to feed my cattle. Milk Vita used to buy 2,000 litres of milk from us, which has dropped to 500 litres."
The farmer called for immediate help in order to stay in business.
The BDOA had requested government officials to keep sweet shops open during the lockdown but the shutdown was in place before their appeal to the deputy commissioners, said Imran.
"The administration didn't allow the shops to open in the remote areas causing a loss for the farmers. Also, there's hardly any customer for sweets during this lockdown."
As a result, some farmers are throwing away milk while others are selling it very cheap. Some are even giving milk away for free, said Imran.
The dairy farmers do not have scope to sell off their cattle, he said, adding a cow yielding 10 litres of milk on average costs Tk 250 per day as maintenance. The farmers are struggling to find that money.
Bangladesh produces 99,000 tonnes of milk per annum, Jahangir Alam Khan, former director general of Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute. Marketing agencies collect 5-10 percent of the milk for formal processing, he said, adding the agencies have cut down on purchases and sales of the milk.
"Therefore, the farmers cannot sell the milk to the sweet shops, markets or even to the agencies. This has caused the milk price to slump to Tk 15 per litre from Tk 60," he said.
Some of the farmers are making ghee, butter and cottage cheese in a bid to preserve the milk but that too, cannot be stored for long, he said.
The country imports powdered milk worth Tk 200 billion a year which forms 40 percent of the total milk demand.
Three companies have plants to manufacture powdered milk but they tend to import the item from abroad for more profit, according to industry experts.
They urged the livestock minister and the secretary to take initiatives for processing the powdered milk in the country which will help meet the demand during the upcoming Ramadan and Eid and also save foreign currency, said Imran. He called for the addition of milk to the relief goods that are currently being distributed in a bid to create a demand for the product while also ensuring a rich source of protein for the people.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a stimulus fund of Tk 50 billion to provide loans to farmers at 5 percent interest rate to mitigate the impacts of the shutdown on the agriculture sector.

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