New trends to combat novel circumstances

Updated 04 Aug 2020

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YOUNGSTERS carrying their sacrificial animal in a street at Shad Bagh area ahead of Eid-ul-Azha in Lahore.— Online
YOUNGSTERS carrying their sacrificial animal in a street at Shad Bagh area ahead of Eid-ul-Azha in Lahore.— Online

EIDUL Azha — a natural stimulus to livestock trade in the country — generates billions of dollars in trade and allied activities every year. However, it underwent a few changes this year because of the pandemic.

Trade has generally been slow, especially that of smaller animals. But, at the same time, online activity emerged as a new but powerful trend. It changed the marketing tactics of the sales of animals: more photogenic animals fetched higher prices. Even at a physical level, Punjab, for the first time, has seen the sale of exotic animals for many millions of rupees.

Stung by the pandemic, the federal and provincial governments rewrote the rule of animal trade this year. Punjab, being sellers of the highest numbers (last year, it traded 6.2 million animals out of total national Eid trade of 8.1m) was particularly careful. It not only shifted the make-shift markets to the city suburbs but also fixed the number of animals for a particular market and regulated the numbers to replenish sales.

Punjab also increased the numbers — from 260 last year to 303 this year — of these trading hubs to spread the load and made them observe all pandemic protocols: conducting corona tests of sellers, taking the temperature of visitors and ensuring gloves and sanitisers at the entry points.

Mathematical measurements were brought in for ensuring a safe space for animals and purchasers.

For the first time, Punjab has seen animals costing Rs1.5m-2m in its Eid markets

As additional measures, the provincial government not only launched an application to facilitate online trade but also encouraged potential traders and purchasers to go online. According to the managers of the official app, over 10,000 people had downloaded it till a week before Eid and over 500 animals were traded on it.

The trend, they were sure, will gather pace in the run-up to the Eid day. In addition, organisations like the United States Agency for International Development also started portals to keep people off the market and many private brands also started online services — turning the ritual into online activity, albeit partially. Even religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami (through its subsidiary Al-Khidmat Foundation) went online for booking, collection of animals and hide gatherings.

The trade watchers and brands managers believe that this trend will now hold, even when the virus has dwindled away because of a number of benefits. There is no hassle of purchasing and keeping animals for days, looking for a butcher — a time taking and expensive annoyance — and finally, the safe deposit of offal is ensured. People will now get cleanly prepared meat at their doorsteps, ready for distribution. Most of those involved in the activity think that this trend will not only stay but will gather strength in the coming years.

Slowing down of national and personal economy due to the pandemic has impacted trade in more than one way. It has not only slowed down general trade but also changed its nature. In Punjab, historically people preferred smaller animals for individual slaughtering. However, a small shift was noted last year: as people’s economy started slowing down, they started opting for the bigger animals for collective sacrifice rather than going for an individual one.

This year, this smaller shift has turned into a massive trend. Zubair Wattu, in-charge of Lahore markets, thinks that the sale of the bigger animal may jump by 30 per cent this year if the trend noted early in the season holds till Eid. “It is simple economics: a goat now costs around Rs30,000 to Rs35,000, whereas sharing costs anything between Rs15,000 to Rs20,000. So, people are going for bigger animals in a big way. Last year, out of 6.2m animals, around two million were bigger ones. This year, the figure may go to three million — changing the dynamics of the trade.”

Another trend, which is new for Punjab is the introduction of exotic animals in the Eid trade. “It has been there in Karachi markets, but for Punjab, it is new and healthy,” says Talat Naseer Pasha — former vice-chancellor of the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences.

For the first time, Punjab has seen animals costing Rs1.5-2m in its Eid markets. Online sales, if social media is to be believed, went as high as five to six million rupees per animal. According to livestock traders, this is the culmination of a trait called animal fattening, which started some five years ago in Punjab.

During the first half of the decade, at least 25 high-investment modern farms came up, which are now fattening animals, making them look better and increasing their visual appeal and claiming premium prices. So far, the sales were restricted to individual farms. But now, as expected, they are exploring Eid markets.

As these farms spread throughout the province, carrying news of exceptionally high-price spread, even smaller farmers started nurturing their animals on the same lines with better diets based on fats and proteins. “It is always good to have a premium market, elite breeds and exotic animals as they represent better raising practices and improve the supply chain. They are the trendsetters that raise the benchmark and improve the entire trade activity,” says VC Pasha.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 4th, 2020