Rawhide business battered by Covid restrictions
Rawhide traders across Bangladesh have been left disappointed by low prices this year, according to market insiders.
Besides, many people opted not to sacrifice animals during Eid-ul-Azha, for which the supply of rawhides has diminished significantly compared to pre-pandemic levels, they said.
Eid-ul-Azha, one of the two largest religious festivals for Muslims, accounts for more than half of the country's annual rawhide collection.
This year though, amid a slew of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19, the number of cattle sacrificed was considerably lower as most people avoided big expenses during this time of crisis.
A total of 90.9 lakh cattle were sacrificed this year, down by about 3.8 per cent from that in 2020, according to data from the Department of Livestock Services (DLS).
Rawhide wholesalers in Barishal say the supply of sacrificial animal skins was at least 20 per cent lower compared to last year.
Keramat Ali, a rawhide trader based in the Barishal wholesale market, said he bought 4,000 pieces of untanned leather this year while it was 6,000 pieces in 2020.
"There were at least 10 traders in Barishal market who used to do this business but that number has since come down to four thanks to coronavirus-induced financial troubles," he added.
Around 4.61 lakh cattle were sacrificed in the division this year, down by about 37,000 animals compared to that in 2020, as per data from the DLS Barishal office.
Similarly, the poor supply and low prices have taken a toll on the Pakuatia rawhide market in Ghatail upazila of Tangail.
As a result, many of the local traders now fear they may face huge losses.
More than four lakh rawhides were brought to the market in 2020 whereas just one-fourth of this amount is up for sale this year.
Moreover, thanks to the restrictions on public movement, only a small number of tannery owners, agents and wholesalers have been able to pay a visit.
During a recent visit to the wholesale market beside the Tangail-Mymensingh highway, several rawhide traders said they were forced to sell their products at a loss in order to reduce the debt incurred to purchase these skins.
Punya Sarkar, a seasonal rawhide trader of Moter Bazar of Madhupur upazila in Tangail, said he availed 700 rawhides for Tk 500 apiece, which includes the cost of salt and transport.
"But buyers are offering not more than Tk 500 per hide," he added.
Likewise, Arun Kumar of Fulbaria in Mymensingh said he bought Tk 4 lakh worth of rawhides and had to spend another Tk 40,000 for other costs.
"But with the current price situation in the market, it seems that I cannot sell my rawhides for more than Tk three-and-a-half lakh," he added.
On the other hand, Abu Sayeed, a representative from Ajmer Tannery in Dhaka, said rawhide prices have dropped because of a similar decline in prices at the international level.
Besides, the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, he added.
However, Sayeed expressed hope that prices may rise a bit after the ongoing nationwide lockdown comes to an end.
Still though, most seasonal rawhide traders say they cannot wait for a potential rise in prices since they have to repay their loans.