The coronavirus pandemic has helped online cattle stores increase sales not only during the festival of Eid al Adha but on other occasions too.
Junaid Ahmed Palak, Bangladesh's state minister for information and communication technology, has always been quick in adopting new technology. So when the South Asian nation launched “Digital Haat” last Wednesday, the integrated online platform for selling sacrificial animals ahead of Eid al Adha quickly gained popularity. And Palak fittingly became its first customer.
The 40-year-old minister bought a cow from the portal by paying around Tk 70,000 ($825).
“I did it to set an example. During this time of the pandemic, we encourage all to stay at home and take the help of technology to buy their sacrificial animals for Eid,” Palak told TRT World.
Bangladesh and other Muslim majority countries are going to observe Eid al Adha, the second biggest religious festival for Muslims on July 21 this year. Bangladesh usually sacrifices around 10-12 million cattle (cow, buffalo, goat, sheep) on this occasion.
Every year, days before Eid, makeshift cattle markets emerge in large numbers across Bangladesh. However, as the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the country, the authorities have imposed several restrictions against the mushrooming of makeshift cattle markets.
As of Wednesday, the total Covid death counts in Bangladesh reached 17, 278 while the total caseload surpassed 10,71,774. The deadly Delta variant is spreading fast in urban and rural areas, stretching the country's health sector beyond its limits.
To flatten the infection curve, the government in partnership with an e-commerce association launched the Digital Haat, integrating over 1,843 online shops which source cattle from a total of 241 permanent cattle markets across the country.
“The cattle breeders were worried whether they could make a sale during this year’s Eid because of the pandemic. This Digital Haat (market) will help them to sell their animals online, especially to the urban dwellers,” said Palak.
Not for the first time
Digital Haat is however far from being the first online cattle market in Bangladesh. In fact, for the past six or seven years, buying sacrificial animals online has become a trend for the dwellers of Dhaka and Chattagram— two of the largest cities of the South Asian Nation of some 165 million people.
People like Mohammad Golam Morshed, a banker working in the mid-management of a multinational bank in the capital Dhaka, initially thought the concept of “online Qurbani Haat” might not work in a country like Bangladesh.
“Sacrificial animals are not like perfume, or a book or a cell phone. It’s a living thing. No matter how filthy the Qurbani Haats get, or how foul they smell, people still love to get their feet dirty in the filthy muck of Haat just to get the pleasure of haggling and finding the perfect cattle for sacrifice,” said Morshed.
“This mindset however has changed in the last few years, I believe,” said Morshed, “I first bought my cow from an online Haat in 2017 and since then I have been doing the same,”
“I can tell you that I am very happy with it. This year too, I am ordering my cow from an online Haat,” he added.
Hemayetul Islam, an executive of a marketing agency in Dhaka said with a demanding profession and busy life, online Qurbani Haats actually come as a great respite.
“Now I can order my sacrificial cattle from the comfort of my home. I have wholeheartedly embraced this scope,” he said adding that like the previous year, he would order a cow from the online Qurbani Haat of Bengal Meat.
Complete Qurbani service as well as live cattle
Bengal Meat, one of the largest meat suppliers of Bangladesh is actually a pioneer in selling sacrificial animals online. They have started selling cattle online for Eid since 2013. This year, the meat giant is having a repository of over 1,500 cattle within a price range of Tk70,000 ($825) to Tk400,000 ($4,700).
Md Hares, the head of Bengal Meat's Qurbani project, told TRT World they are offering a complete Qurbani service.
“People just have to choose the cattle on our Bengal Meat's website, and the rest—halal slaughtering and meat processing — all will be carried out through our team of professionals, '' said Hares.
“It means you will have the meat chopped, packed and delivered to your home without having to go through the hassle of hiring an actual butcher to cut your meat,” he added.
E-commerce giant Daraz has also been selling sacrificial animals for the past five years. This year, they had started their 'Qurbani Haat' campaign in the middle of June. Their listed sellers and farmers have already uploaded detailed information about cows from different parts of the country.
Shayantani Twisha, the head of media of Daraz Bangladesh, said they have witnessed a year-to-year growth of about 140 percent since last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A good number of people have resorted to online cattle markets as visiting a physical market is not safe under the present circumstances,” she said.
Unlike Bengal Meat which offered a full meat processing service, Daraz is offering live cattle.
“This is because people still want to see their sacrificial animal before slaughtering it on Eid day,” Twisha said.
With large companies like Bengal Meat or Daraz catering to the increasing demand of online cattle markets, small-time traders like Shagar Hasnat have also jumped the bandwagon.
Last year, amidst the pandemic, Hasnat established Ahlan Agro and started selling sacrificial animals online.
“I was able to sell 16 cows last year. This year I have 30 cows and I have already received orders for 22,” he said.
Hasnat said, “One of the problems of buying cattle from a physical market is that all the sellers, who you never meet, claim that their cattle are disease-free, healthiest, and not hybrid.”
“Here, our farm cattle have actually been fed natural feed, their health is checked by registered veterinarians, and they have been reared by animal husbandry experts with a minimum of three months to one year at the feedlot. We can show you videos to prove that,” said Hasnat.
The online sales of sacrificial animals however is still “quite insignificant” compared to the traditional market sales.
According to the Bangladesh Dairy Farmers Association (BDFA), online sales accounted for only 5 percent of the total cattle sales on the occasion of Eid al Adha last year, up from 1 percent to 2 percent in 2019.
“It’s on a rise though, as our data reflects,” Md Shah Emran, secretary of the BFDA, told TRT World.
“The fact is, the online cattle market is almost entirely catering to the needs of urban dwellers. Over 60 percent of people in our country still live in villages and they are still buying sacrificial cattle from an actual cattle market,” he said.
Emran said the Covid-19 pandemic has brought a change in the mindset of people and encouraged them to shop online.
“So the people who can use technology are embracing these digital cattle markets,” he said.