As lockdown looms, Chattogram merchants worry about preserving Eid rawhides

The prospect of another spell of lockdown restrictions after the Eid-ul-Azha holidays has left merchants in Chattogram worried about the preservation of rawhides and skins of sacrificial animals.

Although the rawhides will not be hard to come by, the merchants fear that they will rot without proper preservation if the warehouses remain closed.

The lion's share of the yearly rawhide collection comes during the festival and the animal skins are sold over the two weeks after Eid, according to Muslim Uddin, president of Chattogram Rawhide Merchant Cooperative Association.

"We won't have anything to worry about if the warehouses are allowed to remain open in compliance with health directives during the lockdown."

He called on the government to allow the warehouses to remain open after Eid, just like the ready-made garment factories.

In previous years, merchants have targeted the procurement of around 500,000 rawhides but the goal has been revised down to 350,000 this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They warned about a repeat of 2019 if the seasonal traders do not collect the leather judiciously. They also advised seasonal traders not to buy the rawhide for more than Tk 15 to 18 per square foot.

In 2019, seasonal traders in Chattogram abandoned thousands of rawhides after being offered meagre prices. The unsold skins were left to rot on the streets, dealing a big blow to the country's leather industry in the process.

Typically, seasonal traders or middlemen go to the houses of those who make sacrifices to collect the animal skins and sell them to the merchants. The merchants in turn sell the rawhides to tanneries.

The Ministry of Commerce determines the price at which tanneries will buy the rawhides.

On Jul 15, the Ministry of Commerce set the price at which tannery owners would collect sacrificial animal skins from warehouse keepers.

This year, the price of a square foot of salted cow or buffalo rawhide has been set at Tk 40-45 in Dhaka, and Tk 33-37 elsewhere.

The government fixed the prices of salted goatskins at a maximum of Tk 17 per sq ft.

Muslim said the price set by the government did not account for the cost of preserving the rawhides. After collecting the rawhides, the merchants have to spend additional sums of money on the storage of salt to preserve the skins and to pay the wages of the workers.

Workers applying salt on cattle rawhides for preservation at Posta in Old Dhaka’s Lalbagh on Sunday, a day after slaughters on Eid-ul-Azha. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

“The skins get damaged quickly in extreme heat. Many of the rawhides are ruined before they reach us and these are subsequently discarded. That is why my message is to put salt in the skins.”

According to the merchants, more than 20 tanneries operated in Chattogram at one point, but now there is only one called 'Reef Leather'.

Merchants of Chattogram sell between 80,000 and 100,000 skins to this tannery. They said they had to rely on the tanneries in Dhaka to sell the rest of the rawhides.

Muslim said the merchants in the port city still owe a lot of money to the tannery owners in Dhaka.

He claimed that even though they have paid the money for the last two years, the dues from 2015-2018 are yet to be cleared.