There are signs of a resurgence of the old trend in the Eidul Azha market as Prime Minister Imran Khan assumes office with the promise of Naya Pakistan. Initial reports from the market suggest expansion after a lull last year.
The stagnant Eid economy last year bucked a decade-old trend of persistent acceleration. Market sources confirmed in 2017 a price crash on the second day of Eid as the unsold stock, particularly of small animals, had to be returned to hometowns owing to weaker consumer demand in Karachi and Lahore.
Adjusting to the changing demand pattern in urban centres, dealers at the cattle market told Dawn that the supply of goats and sheep has dropped significantly this year while that of cows, bulls and buffalos has increased.
The demand price spiked by 20 per cent on average in 2018 because of higher transport and incidental expenses, but the increase in the selling price is in the range of five to 10pc depending on the buyers’ negotiation skills.
The greater volume of cattle trade on “Bakra Eid” means a bigger net wealth transfer from urban to rural Pakistan, with cattle farmers of Punjab being rewarded generously for their better cattle rearing skills by the market. In contrast, ultimate beneficiaries of higher consumer spending on Eidul Fitr are urban manufacturers, traders and service providers. The gains, however, are not equitably shared across all regions on both festive occasions owing to the geographical disparities in development.
The greater volume of cattle trade on ‘Baqra Eid’ means a bigger net wealth transfer from urban to rural Pakistan, with cattle farmers of Punjab being rewarded generously
Roughly one-tenth of the total population of goats and cows is sacrificed every year during the three days of Eidul Azha. Livestock has a growing share of 58.9pc in the agriculture sector and 11.1pc in the gross domestic product, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2017-18. The growth in the livestock sector remained 3.7pc last year, which is 80 basis points higher than the agriculture-sector growth of 2.9pc.
Currently, general sentiments are upbeat. The nation has heaved a sigh of relief at the peaceful transfer of power for the third consecutive time.
“The easing of political tension does reflect itself in the market. People of Pakistan never surrendered to the fear factor. But now with political predictability and an improvement in the security situation, a comparatively relaxed nation feels entitled to celebrate while ignoring the financial pinch,” commented an analyst.
The cash-based nature of cattle trade makes it difficult to monitor the flow of money. There is a whole chain of people involved in the activity that spans over the year and culminates on Eid. There are investors, breeders, cattle farm owners, short-term retail investors, brokers, transporters, mandi operators, caretakers in urban centres, service providers and millions of temporary workers. Identifying the share of each segment in the pie of the Eid economy is hard, but the risk-reward ratio for brokers with both ends secured is said to be the most lucrative. For all others, risks are high and returns are uncertain.
Many dependable indicators that shed light on the size of the market — like the data of hides and skins collected and the consolidated number of the headcount of cattle marked by the state-managed markets — are released after a lag of one month. At this point, we know that remittances spiked by 25pc in July to $1.93 billion from $1.5bn in the same month of 2017. Some of this hike is attributed to Eidul Azha-related transfers by overseas Pakistanis.
The figures of Eid-induced cash withdrawals and the tally of additional payments to employees in the form of bonuses have yet to surface.
Officials of provincial livestock departments were reluctant to offer comments about the size or the profile of the market.
Final figures are not available, but early indicators point to a massive Eidul Azha economy revolving primarily around cattle trade. Preparations for the festive occasion spur the sale of clothes, shoes and accessories, but the major share of Eid-centric liquidity is soaked up by qurbani.
“Counting their blessings in a pleasant weather this year, Pakistanis are all set to loosen the purse strings and delve deep in fervour to celebrate the religious festival of Eidul Azha. The visible level of the activity is more than the last year’s as male members of families hit the mandis and ladies frequent malls for preparation,” a market watcher commented.
The composition of the Eidul Azha market is expected to remain unaltered as Pakistanis switch in greater numbers to the ‘group’ segment to follow the religious tradition of sacrificing cattle in the name of Almighty.
“I would love to keep the affair exclusive, but my conditions do not permit the luxury any more. After several visits to the mandi over the past week, I have decided to pool in with neighbours for a collective qurbani as the prices are way beyond my reach. I settled for a pair of goats when cows became too expensive. Last year, I sacrificed one goat. My income increment has failed to keep pace with growing family expectations,” said a senior officer of the Punjab Livestock Department over the phone.
The state, it seems, is too self-involved to care for the market and its trends. But the private sector not only observes it but also strives hard to claim a share in the big spending spike on Eid. There are scores of companies that compete fiercely on Eid and adopt innovative marketing strategies. Many online services have also been introduced to facilitate younger Pakistanis that look for convenience without compromising on their religious preferences.
With politico-religious groups out of the arena after the government-imposed ban on hide collection, many welfare bodies have stepped up efforts to occupy the vacant space. Several NGOs active in health and education sectors have engaged staff and initiated qurbani projects to offer a hassle-free option to the faithful in return for hides.