Inducted into the family business of steel manufacturing and trading, Imran discovered a small cow shed behind one of their factories. Two decades later, he now heads Sadeeq Agro, the largest dairy farm in the country
Usually, people who have had an English medium education in Bangladesh tend towards a career in white-collar jobs. Many of them often settle abroad.
But Md Imran Hossain, ninth among 10 kids of Hazi Osman Ali, had no option but to go into the family business as his father was adamant his sons take charge of the family business after his retirement.
Since pre-independence period, Osman's Lucky Steel was a reputed enterprise based in English Road of Old Dhaka. Initially, he imported steel metal and sold them wholesale.
Over the years, the businessman developed a number of sister concerns, including Jalalabad Steel Limited, Jalalabad Steel Building Limited and Jalalabad Metal Limited.
Imran joined the family business in 2000 when he was still a university student. He often visited the factory of Jalalabad Colour Tin Sheet in the capital's Hemayetpur.
There was a cow shed behind the factory that Imran never failed to stop by. He would often look after the cattle and his fascination with animals grew.
The cows had been kept there to meet the family needs for fresh meat and milk. Imran wanted to expand the shed to provide relatives and friends with quality meat and milk.
"People close to me often spoke about how they could not trust the meat and milk available in the market," he said.
In 2009, he and his childhood friend Touhidul Alam launched Sadeeq Agro in the Mohammadpur area. The duo chose the Arabic word for their venture as it means "friend" or "close companion".
"We inaugurated our farm with only seven Holstein Friesian dairy cows. Every day, the maximum milk produced was 40kg," he said.
Initially, the farm products were served to family members, relatives, and friends. As demand grew over time, the duo expanded the business.
Currently, the farm's daily milk production is more than 2,000kg.
In total, Sadeeq Agro has 14 sheds and nine of those are located in Dhaka. The sheds have an accommodation capacity of around 2,500 cattle.
There are separate cow sheds for Sahiwal, Sindhi, Brahman, Andro, Brazil, Jersey, Angola, Rajasthani, Hallikar and other breeds. More than eight varieties of goat and sheep are reared in separate sheds.
Under the venture, there is a poultry shed with a capacity of 3,000 chicken and it is located in Mohammadpur. The chicken is always fed organic feeds.
At least 130 permanent employees work on the farm but during Eid-ul-Adha, the number of workers increases. At that time, young cows are sourced for rearing from across the country, especially from Kushtia, Rajshahi and Sirajganj.
Initially, cattle farming was no easy task for Imran as there is a dearth of people with knowledge and expertise in this sector. Moreover, he had no institutional training.
Sadeeq Agro thus grew through trial and error.
Imran gave an example. He bought two dairy cows from Paragram cattle market in Keraniganj, the largest cattle market on the outskirts of Dhaka.
"The cows cost me Tk1.85 lakh. The agent assured me that they would produce a minimum of 24kg milk every day. Actually, he was a cheat. After a week, dairy production fell to 7kg."
A cow producing three to four kilogrammes of milk is not commercially viable. That is why Imran had to resell the cows at half their prices after two weeks.
Sometimes, the price of milk fell, forcing Imran to dump the highly perishable drink. But he often chose to supply milk to relatives and friends free of charge.
The fall in cattle price on the night before Eid is common. His relatives and friends would often try to cash in on the situation. They would offer Tk1.5 lakh for a cow worth double the amount.
The lack of skilled veterinary doctors still disappoints Imran. Moreover, he lamented the vets' general negligence in treating ailing cattle. "They do not care about animals."
When Imran took cattle farming seriously, he found little support. But he did not give up and started studying cattle to learn about breeds suitable for the Bangladeshi environment.
He would spend time browsing authentic websites for proper information. He tried to learn about proper nutrition of cattle and their health.
"Over the years, we established a good relationship with New Zealand- and US-based farmers and veterinary experts. Some of them visited Sadeeq Agro sheds," Imran said.
However, Sadeeq Agro now has its own veterinary doctors. Some of its support staff have good knowledge about cattle too.
Imran is now hopeful about youngsters, including vets and entrepreneurs, coming into the sector.
In 2015, Bangladesh's annual milk production was 27 lakh tonnes. Within five years, production reached around 99 lakh tonnes.
"In the last couple of years, many unemployed youth joined this sector. Now, Bangladesh is self-sufficient in meat production. Our dairy farmers manage to meet 70% of the demand for milk," said Imran, who is the president of Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association (BDFA). BDFA was formed in 2016, with Imran as its founding president.
According to him, more than two crore people are directly involved in cattle farming, feed production and trading in the country.
Sadeeq Agro has three sister concerns – Shahi Mithai, Shahi Bakery and Shahi Khana. Initially, the objective of Shahi Mithai was to produce sweetmeats and dairy products for friends and relatives.
As the demand for Shahi Mithai products started to grow, it was inaugurated formally in 2016. The venture enabled Imran to use milk to make products, unlike before, when he would have to dump milk because of a fall in its price.
At the same time, Shahi Bakery was launched. All the bakery items are made of pure milk.
Sadeeq Agro offers home delivery and online services. During the pandemic-induced shutdown, the set-up worked as a crucial part of the business.
As the demand for fresh meat fell, Imran launched food delivery services – Shahi Khana – to diversify Sadeeq Agro. To be unique, Shahi Khana offers seven special biriyani dishes, each for a specific day of the week. Soon, outlets of Shahi Khana will be inaugurated at different locations in Dhaka.
Although his village home is in Sylhet, Imran was born and raised in Dhaka. Starting with only seven cows, the visionary cattle farmer led Sadeeq Agro to become one of the country's largest meat producers. The company is valued at Tk45 crore.
"My three sons, Yamaan, Adiyan and Affan, and my nephews want to be farmers like me. They also have a fascination for animals," Imran added.