Bangladesh Feeling Pinch as India Curbs Cattle Smuggling

By Shahriar Sharif

2015-04-21
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150421-BD-IN-cattle-620 Bangladeshis prepare cattle for sacrifice in Dhaka during the Eid al-Adha Islamic holiday, Nov. 7, 2011.
AFP

With the holy month of Ramadan around the corner, Bangladesh’s predominantly Muslim population is seeing a steep rise in beef prices following efforts by the Hindu nationalist government in neighboring India to intensify a crackdown on cross-border cattle smuggling.

In Bangladesh, late night meals during Ramadan often include beef. And on Eid al-Adha – one of two feast days celebrated by Muslims worldwide – many Bangladeshis slaughter cattle or goats to commemorate Abraham’s obedience to God.

“Ramadan will start from mid-June when the demand for beef goes up considerably. We don’t know how we are going to handle the impending crisis,” Robiul Alam, general secretary of the Bangladesh Meat Merchants’ Association, told BenarNews.

Beef prices have risen sharply in recent weeks, association members say, because of India’s efforts to rein in the smuggling of Indian cattle across the border with Bangladesh.

In India, where the predominantly Hindu population venerates the cow as “mother,” the consumption of cow meat is discouraged, and export of cows is banned. But exports of bulls and buffalo are permitted.

India, in fact, is the world’s second biggest exporter of beef, ranking behind Brazil and ahead of Australia, according to Beef2Live.com, a website covering the worldwide beef industry.

Bangladesh relies heavily on imports of Indian beef. Last year, as many as 2.5 million head of Indian cattle were smuggled into Bangladesh, the Times of India reported. According to Bangladeshi livestock officials, 1.7 million head of cattle are imported legally from India per year.

“If there was enough supply from India, we could sell at a reasonable price and make a profit. Now we don’t have any profit,” Mujibar Rahman, a member of the meat merchants’ association, told BenarNews.

‘Poor people’s food’

The supply of Indian beef has shrunk, Bangladeshis say, in the wake of a call by Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh for border police to keep clamping down on cattle smuggling into Bangladesh.  

"I am told prices of beef in Bangladesh have gone up by 30 percent recently due to heightened vigil by the BSF against cattle smuggling,” Singh told members of the Border Security Force (BSF) during an April 1 visit to an outpost in West Bengal along the Indo-Bangladesh frontier, Times of India reported.

“Further intensify your vigil so that the cattle smuggling stops completely and prices of beef in Bangladesh escalate 70 to 80 percent more, so that people of Bangladesh give up eating beef," he instructed.

Meanwhile, India’s government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), may be moving to impose a nationwide ban on the slaughter and sale of beef from cows, as well as bulls and buffalos.

Many Indian states already have banned the slaughter of cows and sales of cow meat, but last month India’s most populous state, Maharashtra, widened its ban to cover the slaughter of bulls and buffaloes.

According to the Associated Press, a nationwide ban would not only affect India’s large Muslim minority but low-caste Hindus who rely on beef – a meat that is taboo in their religion – as a cheap source of protein.

“This is a poor people’s food and is a key source of nutrition for millions of people,” the AP quoted Muhammed Aqil Qureshi, president of the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association in the New Delhi area, as saying.

The rising cost of beef

On the other side of the border, Bangladeshis are feeling the effect of a smaller supply of Indian beef.

At Hatirpool market in Dhaka, during the second week of April beef was selling at 370 taka (U.S. $4.75) per kilo, compared with 280 taka [U.S. $3.59] a kilo four months ago – a hike of 32 percent.

“We haven’t raised the price intentionally to make more money, but we were compelled because of inadequate supply,” Mobarak Hossain, a meat vendor at the market, told BenarNews.

Rising beef prices are also pushing up prices for other meats, the trade association’s Mujibar Rahman noted.

In recent weeks, prices for broiler chickens have gone from 130 (U.S. $1.67) to 135 takas (U.S. $1.73), to 160 (U.S. $2.05) to 165 takas ($2.12) per bird. And goat is now selling at 550 (U.S. $7.06) to 600 (U.S. $7.71) takas per kilo, compared with 450 takas (U.S. $5.78) a kilo a few weeks ago, Rahman said.

“It appears there’s nobody to protect the interests of people like me. We’re at the mercy of those who control the market,” Tofael Ahmed, who was shopping for meat at the market, told BenarNews.

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