The coronavirus outbreak has hit hard the cattle farmers in Pabna and Sirajganj as they are now getting hardly any customer for the animals they prepared for the last year targeting the Eid-ul-Azha this year.
Normally, cattle traders flock in large numbers to the belt -- one of the biggest cattle producing areas of the country -- one month ahead of the festival, when Muslims slaughter animals as part of their efforts to honour Prophet Ibrahim's spirit of sacrifice.
But the scene is different this year.
Before the Eid-ul-Azha, at least 25 trucks of cattle used to go to Dhaka and Chattogram every week from Koromza haat in Pabna's Santhia upazila, said Momin Mollah, a farmer.
"But this year, not a single cattle trader from outside the district came to Koromza haat," said the man who brought 10 fattened cows to the haat from Pabna's Bera upazila, but could not sell any.
The farmers fattened 1.25 lakh cows this year in Sirjganj, up from 1.05 lakh last year, said Md Akhteruzzaman, the district's livestock officer.
"This time they have to count huge losses because of a significant fall in its demand among local buyers and at markets in Dhaka and Chattogram."
The pandemic is taking a heavy toll on the local farmers, said Al Mamun Hossain, district livestock officer of Pabna, where villagers have reared more than 1.2 lakh fattened cattle for the Eid market.
"Less than a month is left for Eid but still there is no rush of the traders to come to the farmers' house," said Md Nurnabi, a farmer of Char Ratikandi in Sirajganj's Shahzadpur upazila.
The cattle traders used to get tangled into an unofficial competition, as every one of them wants to buy the best animals at the lowest rates, said the farmer, for whom cattle is the only source of income.
Nurnabi has been rearing four fattened cows for the last one year and expected to sell those at a minimum of Tk 2.5 lakh. "But there was no buyer for my animals."
The farmer said he collected cows and buffaloes from his and adjoining villages and put them up for sale at markets in Dhaka and Chattogram last year.
"There would be poor sales in Dhaka this year. I have no interest to go there now as coronavirus has drastically cut the income of most people in the country."
He said he would wait for the last week ahead of the Eid and sell the animals at whatever prices he gets to recover some losses.
Some traders are visiting the villages, but they are offering prices that are much lower than the farmers' yearlong expenditure on the animals.
Saddam Hossain of village Char Chithulia in the upazila has already spent Tk 2.5 lakh to fatten four cows and was hoping to get about Tk 3.25 lakh by selling those.
"Just one trader came to my farm in the last week and offered me only Tk 2 lakh for all the four cows."
Selling those to the local butchers is even more profitable now, he said. "Each of my cows weighs over five maunds. I would get Tk 20,000 per maund if I sell meat."
There is another big market for the farmers -- the online marketplace, according to Akhteruzzaman.
"We are trying to inspire the farmers to sell animals through online markets as many people do not come to the live cattle haats to avoid getting infected with coronavirus."
But the problem is the cattle farmers are illiterate and most of them do not know how to put an animal up on the online marketplaces.
Most of them do not even have a mobile phone capable of downloading the app for online sales of cattle, he added.
"When a person comes to the market, he gets the opportunity to choose from a variety of animals. But in case of online, there is no such scope," said Nazrul Islam Nakir, a merchant cattle farmer.
Nakir has a big firm of more than 100 cows. This year, he sold most of the animals to the meat traders due to a lack of customers.