When the daily activities came to a halt during the shutdown across the country to prevent the spread of coronavirus, some initiatives from the Department of Livestock (DLS) saved farmers from financial distress.
Under its National Agricultural Technology Program (NATP-2) and through its direct mechanism, the DLS provided battery-run rickshaw-vans to livestock farmers to help them reach out to big buyers, officials said.
According to the DLS' sales report, due to their initiatives livestock farmers had become able to sell dairy products, poultry, eggs and meat worth about Tk 2,478 crore in two months.
Over 13 crore litres of milk, 59.35 crore eggs, seven crore poultry, 12.43 crore kilogrammes of meat, butter, ghee and sweets were sold between April 25 and June 23, shows the report signed by Dr Md Jasim Uddin, deputy director of DLS.
Talking to The Daily Star, Jasim said they have managed the whole process through their control room. "Wherever farmers informed us about their problem in selling by van due to movement restriction, we helped them through local administration," he said.
The government imposed the shutdown on March 26 and the closure was stretched up to May 30. Due to the enforcement, economic activities came to a standstill, leaving many livestock farmers in the lurch.
For instance, 42-year-old Kanika Mondol of village Tipna in Khulna was struggling to sell milk.
"I get 35 liters of milk every day. Most was wasted as I couldn't sell. We went through miserable times," she said over the phone recently.
With assistance from NATP-2 programme, Kanika and her neighbouring farmers received battery-run auto-rickshaw for collection and distribution of milk.
"Me and two other female farmers who live in my neighbourhood used to collect 200-litre milk each day and sell those in at least five nearby villages," she said.
The project is funded by World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
It covers research, extension and supply chain development in three sub-sectors of agriculture -- crops, livestock and fisheries -- and it is being operated in 270 upazilas of 57 districts in the country. The first phase of the programme was operated between 2007 and 2014.
A beneficiary of the project, Biporna Biswas, learned cattle farming in 2009. She started with one cow and now expanded her farm with six cows. She earned Tk 2.65 lakh annually from selling milk and Tk 75,000 from selling calves per year.
During the shutdown, she too faced trouble but the transportation solved her financial crisis.
Talking to The Daily Star, Dr Monjur Mohammad Shahjada, director of NATP-2, said they engaged over two lakh farmers through their projects.
They connect farmers through the Common Interest Group (CIG) and there are three CIGs in each union.
"We not only facilitated farmers selling their products but also arranged regular vaccination programmes," he said, adding that farmers who are not members were too provided vaccination facilities during the shutdown.
Monjur said, "DLS is working on a proposal to institutionalise ideas like 'market on wheels' to help farmers sell their products in crisis situations like Covid-19."
Sherina Tabassum, country programme officer of IFAD, said they are working closely with national institutions, such as the Department of Livestock Services (DLS) and the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation and supporting around 200,000 dairy farmers across the country.
In response to the pandemic, NATP2 will finance up to 90 percent of the total cost of equipment to support farmers, she said adding they will provide matching grants to farmers to buy equipment and machines to produce animal feed to reduce their dependence on feed from external sources.
This will help them survive in a crisis period, Sherina said.