Qatar gets first boycott-busting bovines

One of the cows airlifted from Budapest to Qatar.(Stringer, AFP)
One of the cows airlifted from Budapest to Qatar.(Stringer, AFP)

Al Khor - A first herd of boycott-busting cows has been airlifted to Qatar to boost milk supplies five weeks after neighbouring Gulf states cut links with the emirate.

The several dozen Holsteins were flown in from Budapest, the first of 4 000 cattle to be imported by August.

The bemused bovines took to their new surroundings at a farm 80km north of Doha on Wednesday, 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."

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all ties with Qatar last month, closed the only land border and halted all exports of food to the emirate.

The Gulf states accuse Qatar of supporting extremism, a charge it denies.

Prior to the crisis, Qatar largely relied on dairy imports from Saudi Arabia, especially of milk.

Its population of 2.7 million was dependent on foodstuffs from Gulf countries, which made up almost half of all imports.

However, since the political crisis began Qatar has resorted to importing food from different countries including Turkey, Iran and Morocco.

Qatar aims to increase by five-fold the number of cattle it has in the country as it looks to lessen its food dependency on imports because of the ongoing crisis.

Dore said the livestock were the first steps in Qatar trying to become "self-sufficient in beef", and it aims to boost cattle numbers in the country from a current 5 000 to about 25 000 in the near future.

The cattle will be farmed for both milk and meat.

"Local supply covers between 10- and 15% at present" of Qatar's needs, Dore told reporters at the farm, as the cows quietly munched on grass laid down next down to the large pens in which they are housed.

Qatar uncowed 

Despite their journey of more than 3 700km and adjusting to new heats of 41°C, the animals seemed unworried by their new surroundings, and certainly unaware of their political significance.

"Before, most of the milk in Qatar was imported from Saudi Arabia and the UAE," said Dore.

"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."

Qatari officials have confidently claimed they can withstand the boycott "forever".

The cows were brought in by a Qatar Airways cargo plane on Tuesday.

Moutaz al-Khayyat, the chairperson of Qatari firm Power International which bought and imported the cows, told Bloomberg News that once all the 4 000 cows arrive in Qatar, they will meet around 30% of the country's dairy needs.

He said it could take up to 60 flights to bring all the cattle into Qatar.

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