Why is beef so expensive in Bangladesh?

Bangladesh has the most expensive beef in all of South Asia

A number of internal and external factors have led to beef being the most expensive in Bangladesh in all of South Asia. 

Factors like India banning the export of beef, high population density in Bangladesh and high cost of cattle feed have all led to astronomically high prices. 

Just before the Eid-ul-Fitr, the price of beef hovered around Tk650-700 per kilogram, which was Tk600 per kg even in March, a month before.

But now, butchers are retailing beef for Tk700-750 per kg in Dhaka, while mutton costs anywhere from Tk850-1,000 per kg. To put things into perspective, highly prized Australian angus beef retails for $4.90 or Tk400 per kg. 

In the Indian city of Kolkata, the price of buffalo meat is Rs200-230 per kg, which is approximately Tk235-270 in Bangladesh, said a Bangladeshi diplomat in Kolkata.

Mutton costs Rs700 per kg there, which is approximately Bangladeshi Tk820.

As Muslims in Kolkata usually consume beef, the price of beef is cheaper compared to the price of mutton there, said the Bangladesh diplomat.

In Pakistan, the price of a kg of beef is around Rs825, which is equivalent to Tk400 in Bangladesh, and price of mutton per kg is Rs1,340, equivalent to Tk650, said Mostofa Jamil, first secretary of the Bangladesh High Commission in Islamabad.

The average price of per kg beef in the international market is around $5-5.50, but in Bangladesh it is around $7-$7.50, said Mohammad Shah Emran, general secretary of the Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association (BDFA).

Before India put a ban on export of cattle to Bangladesh in 2014, the price of one kg beef was around Tk230—250 in Dhaka’s market, according to official data.

Prior to the ban, smuggled Indian cows used to meet a substantial portion of Bangladesh's demand. An estimate showed that traders engaged in smuggling brought nearly 2 million cows into Bangladesh. 

The global average price of beef was $4.63 in FY15 — about Tk360 per kg based on Bangladesh Bank's exchange rate at the time.

What led to the price ballooning

Beef and mutton prices have shot up in Bangladesh in the last 7-8 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.

Abdur Rahman, an employee of a state-owned bank, said: “Prices of beef and mutton are going beyond the reach of lower and middle-income consumers. Usually, Dhaka City Corporation fixes the price of beef and mutton before the month of Ramadan. But this year, the city corporation did not fix the price.”

Some government steps and incentives can help reduce meat prices by 20-25% in Bangladesh, according to BDFA general secretary Shah Emran.

The cost of rearing livestock is higher in Bangladesh compared to Pakistan and India. Bangladesh is a densely populated country with grazing land that has been disappearing over the years. Geographically, both India and Pakistan are respectively 25 and seven times bigger than Bangladesh. So grasslands are widely available in both countries, he said.

What needs to be done

The price of animal feed is also higher in Bangladesh. But the price of this product will come down if TCB imports the commodity and distributes that among farmers, said Emran.

He also proposed imposing a ban on soybean export 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.

In FY10, Bangladesh produced about 1.3 million tonnes of meat, which increased to over 7.5 million tonnes in FY20, according to data by the Department of Livestock Services (DLS).

Over the last 7/8 years, a good number of young educated Bangladeshis have taken up cattle rearing as a profession.

This ended up making Bangladesh self-sufficient in cattle rearing, an official of the 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.

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.

“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 also 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.

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 rearing 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 FY14.

Six years down the line, the flow dipped 90%.

In FY20, the figure was only 200,000, down from 542,000 the previous year.

According to the DLS, there are 698,000 cattle farmers in Bangladesh, up from 300,000 in 2015.

Bulk of the domestic requirement for meat is met by poultry, according to industry insiders.

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, said a DLS official.

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.

The high price of fodder for the cattle is another reason for the high price of cattle as farmers have spent Tk400-500 per sack of 37 kg feed for the last four months, he added.