12 Jul 2017 - 14:12
Qatar's first air shipment of cows lands amid Saudi-led blockade
Bloomberg / AFP
The first batch of an anticipated 4,000 dairy cows was flown into Qatar Tuesday, five weeks after the start of a Saudi Arabia-led blockade of the Gulf country.
A shipment of 165 cows, sourced from Germany and flying via Budapest, are ready to produce milk immediately and the product should reach local markets this week, according to a spokesman for Power International Holding, which is importing the animals.
The bemused bovines took to their new surroundings at a farm 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Doha, despite being the centre of attention from journalists and the pride of Qatar, which sees their arrival as a sign of its defiance in the Gulf crisis.
"We brought in 165 Holsteins, all highly bred Holsteins, especially for dairy," said John Dore, a senior manager at Baladna Livestock Production.
"There are 35 milking cows, that are in milk at present and there's 130 that will calve in the next two-to-three weeks."
The Baladna Farm at Umm Al-Hawaya Area in Al Khor has published photos and videos of the cows after arriving at their farm.
Other shipments will include cows from Australia and the U.S., and should arrive every three days, the company spokesman said Tuesday. In total, the bovine airlift is expected to bring in the 4,000 cows within about a month.
The blockade that started on June 5 has disrupted trade, split families and threatened to alter long-standing geopolitical alliances. The showdown has forced the world’s richest country per capita to open new trade routes to bring in food, building materials and equipment for its natural gas industry.
As part of its response, Qatar has imported Turkish dairy goods along with Peruvian, Iranian and Moroccan fruit.
"Local supply covers between 10 and 15 per cent at present" of Qatar's needs, added Dore, speaking to reporters at the farm.
"Before, most of the milk in Qatar was imported from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
"At the moment the gap is being filled by Turkish imports, which are welcome for the present but the quality won't compare with local produce."
The cows were brought in by a Qatar Airways cargo plane on Tuesday.
Until last month, most of the fresh milk and dairy products for Qatar’s population of 2.7 million was imported from Saudi Arabia.When all the cows purchased by Power International Chairman Moutaz Al Khayyat are flown in, his brand of milk will supply about 30 percent of the country’s needs, he said in an interview last month.
It will take as many as 60 flights for Qatar Airways to deliver the 590-kilogram beasts. “This is the time to work for Qatar,” he had said in that interview.
Al Khayyat, whose main business is a construction firm that built Qatar’s biggest mall, had been expanding the company's agricultural business at a farm 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Doha. Food security is part of Qatar’s government strategy to steer the economy away from petrodollars, known, like in Saudi Arabia, as “Vision 2030.”
On a site covering the equivalent of almost 70 soccer fields, new grey sheds line two strips of verdant grass in the desert with a road running through the middle up to a small mosque. It produces sheep milk and meat and there were already plans to import the cows by sea. Then Qatar was blockaded, so the project was expedited.