When Saudi Arabia and a number of other major Arab states announced last week that they were cutting diplomatic relations with Qatar, the first reaction of many in the tiny Gulf state was simple: Head to the supermarket. That’s because almost all food products in Qatar are imported, usually across the now-closed land border with Saudi Arabia. The country may be oil-rich, but most of its landmass is desert and unsuitable for agriculture.
As photos of barren supermarket shelves spread online, many feared the worst. But one Qatari businessman has offered a partial solution: Fly in 4,000 cows.
Moutaz Al Khayyat, chairman of Power International Holding, told Bloomberg News that it may take 60 flights to deliver all the cows. “This is the time to work for Qatar,” he told the news agency.
Khayyat had already been planning to expand his company’s agricultural business, he told Bloomberg News. The plan has now been expedited so that by mid-July he can cover a third of Qatar’s demand for dairy products. Though the facilities for the cows were already built, Khayyat said the shipping cost for the animals would increase five times to $8 million.
A request for comment from Power International Holding was not immediately returned.
Qatari authorities have repeatedly dismissed concerns about the country’s food supply. “We can live forever like this,” Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told reporters in Doha on Thursday, adding that only 16 percent of Qatar’s food imports came through the now-closed land border crossing with Saudi Arabia. Over recent days a social media campaign to show off goods that were made in Qatar has spread online.
Analysts have had their doubts, however. “Qatar receives 99 percent of its food from outside,” Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser with Washington-based Gulf State Analytics, told The Washington Post last week. “They are wholly dependent on outside supplies, particularly with foodstuffs.” Karasik said that a decade ago the country was estimated to have only a few days of emergency food supplies at best.
Iran and Turkey have flown in food supplies to Qatar over recent days, while the country has launched new shipping routes via Oman to maintain its supply of food from other sources. Some Qataris seem to be extremely grateful. “I will never buy Saudi Arabian and UAE products again,” a Qatari man leaving the Al Meera supermarket told The Post. “I will stay loyal to the people who support us now.”
The economic blockade and diplomatic isolation of Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, was ordered last week after they accused the country of supporting terrorism.