Rising costs and labour shortages threaten the centuries-old tradition of Mirkadim’s white cows

Nestled in the heart of Munshiganj, the small region of Mirkadim is steeped in history and tradition, is especially renowned for its pristine white cows, which face a severe crisis due to escalating feed costs and labour shortages.

For almost a century, these cows have been the pride of the area, celebrated for their exceptional quality and distinctiveness. However, this cherished legacy faces an existential threat due to rising feed costs, a shortage of labour, and the competition of fattening cows with adulterated food and injections.

Nonetheless, some small-scale farmers continue to preserve this cherished heritage of their ancestors. Before Qurbani, the region’s special breed of cows, particularly the white ones, brought fame to the area nationwide. Enthusiasts who prefer to sacrifice impressive-looking cows flock to this region, making it lively during this time.

Local farmers like Majnu Bepari, Amir Hamza, Khalek Mia, and Imon Bepari have witnessed firsthand the challenges threatening their livelihoods.

“The price of cattle feed has skyrocketed,” says Majnu Bepari. “On top of that, finding labour is becoming increasingly difficult. Many of our fellow farmers have switched professions due to financial hardships.”

This has significantly reduced the number of farms, endangering a tradition that has been passed down through generations.

Despite these obstacles, some farmers remain steadfast, determined to preserve their heritage. The distinctive white cows of Mirkadim, known for their glossy, rounded appearance and tender, flavorful meat, continue to be highly sought after, particularly in the lead-up to Eid-ul-Adha.

The cattle markets of Old Dhaka still see a strong demand for these cows, with businessmen making early trips to Mirkadim to secure their purchases months before the festival.

According to local sources, Mirkadim has been famous for fresh cows and buffaloes since ancient times. Additionally, breeds like Nepali, Mundi, Hansa, Western, and Sindhi cows are found here.

In the past, each household in Mirkadim would raise these special breeds. Currently, only a few families continue this profession. Moreover, many family members have moved abroad or engaged in other professions, leading to a decline in cattle rearing.

Due to the special rearing techniques in Mirkadim, the meat of these cows is both delicious and in high demand. The cows are not artificially fattened with tablets or injections. They are usually fed bran, and husk, and the farmers take good care of their health. Therefore, the price and demand for these cows are high. These cows can be seen in the markets of Old Dhaka.

In recent years, wealthy businessmen from Old Dhaka visit Mirkadim months before Eid to buy cows. They go door to door, select and purchase cows, and pay the farmers to take care of them until Eid. As a result, many cows are sold even before reaching the Qurbani markets.

Nonetheless, affluent families in Old Dhaka still consider sacrificing Mirkadim’s cows a family tradition. Some families even sacrifice 8-10 cows at once, distributing the meat over three days. Many people come to collect the meat of these special cows out of passion.

One such businessman, Haider Ali from Bangshal, Old Dhaka, travels to Mirkadim every year to maintain his family’s long-standing tradition. “Last year, I bought a white cow weighing around three to three and a half maunds for Tk125,000. This year, the same cow is priced at nearly Tk200,000,” he says.

The farmers attribute this increase to the rising costs of cattle feed.

Azad Rahman, another regular buyer from Narinda, Old Dhaka, echoes similar sentiments. “For years, Mirkadim’s white cows have been our top choice for Qurbani. Although prices have increased, the quality of these cows justifies the expense,” he says. This year, Rahman purchased four white cows for Tk650,000 despite the higher prices compared to previous years.

Tara Mia, a cattle farmer says, “A few months before Qurbani, we bring in small, selected cows from different regions of the country. Especially, small breeds like Butti cows, Nepali, and Sindhi breeds are brought in. These cows are mostly white and pure in colour. Each cow sells for Tk80,000 to Tk700,000. They are fed bran and husk, and gradually, without any injections or medicines, they grow healthy and plump. After a few months of care, each cow is sold for Tk100,000 to Tk150,000 before Eid.”

Sellers claim that a lot of money is spent on each cow. They require a lot of care, and even selling at these prices doesn’t yield much profit. However, to preserve the tradition, they continue this business of their forefathers.

The situation is not entirely bleak. The District Livestock Department is taking proactive measures to support the farmers. “This year, 13 farms in Mirkadim have prepared around 250 white cows for Eid. We have provided comprehensive support, including free veterinary services and facilitating low-interest loans from various banks,” says Dr Nazrul Islam, the district livestock officer. These efforts aim to alleviate some of the financial burdens on the farmers and help sustain this honoured tradition.

However, the region’s industrial landscape has changed dramatically, impacting the availability and cost of essential feed materials. While Mirkadim still hosts numerous factories, mills, and rice chatal, the prices of bran, husk, and other feeds have significantly increased, making it harder for farmers to sustain their cattle on traditional feed.

Historically, Mirkadim has been a bustling hub, once known as the “second Calcutta” during British rule, with a thriving river port and a vibrant cattle market. The legacy of prominent cattle traders like Saizuddin Haji, Kala Mia Haji, and Mofazzal Hossain still lingers, but the current economic climate poses a serious threat to this heritage.

It is said that the Rahmatganj’s Goni Mia’s haat in Old Dhaka was established many years ago solely for selling these cows. Once, over two hundred farmers from Mirkadim would bring thousands of these white cows to the market before Eid for sale. The tradition of raising these cows in Mirkadim dates back almost a century.

For the farmers of Mirkadim, the support from the government and local authorities is a lifeline. “We are committed to preserving our ancestors’ business,” says Majnu Bepari. “With the right support, we can overcome these challenges and keep our tradition alive.”

As Eid-ul-Adha approaches, the future of Mirkadim’s white cows hangs in the balance. The resilience of its farmers, combined with strategic support, holds the key to sustaining this unique aspect of Bangladesh’s cultural heritage.


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