Amid Gulf crisis, businessman plans to airlift 4,000 cows to Qatar to maintain milk supply

It's not just India that is obsessed with its cow population.

Qatari entrepreneur Moutaz Al Khayyat will airlift a herd of 4,000 Holstein dairy cows to the Gulf state on around 60 flights to get around a regional blockade in place because of an ongoing row with other Gulf nations.

Being dubbed as the "biggest airlift of cattle ever attempted", Khayyat told Bloomberg that it will take at least 60 flights to deliver the 590-kilogram animals, which were bought in Australia and the US. "This is the time to work for Qatar," he was quoted as saying.

Up until a week ago, fresh milk and dairy products for Doha's 1 million population used to come from Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates and its two allies have cut transport links. Riyadh closed the Qatari peninsula's only land border, threatening the import of fresh food and raw materials which are necessary to complete a $200 billion infrastructure project for the 2022 football World Cup.

Gulf food production relies heavily on import, including milk from France. "It normally comes in by ship but soon maybe it will all come in by air for the same price," thanks to government support, a businessman was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Khayyat's main business is his construction firm that built Qatar's biggest mall.

Fresh milk production will start by the end of June rather than September, Khayyat told Bloomberg. It will eventually cover a third of Qatar's demand by mid-July. Facilities for the cows are ready, though the company will take a hit on the shipping cost for the animals, which increased more than five times to $8 million, The Guardian reported.

Earlier in June, Saudi Arabia and other Arab powers severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and moved to isolate the energy-rich nation that is home to a major US military base, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups and backing Iran. The decision plunged Qatar into chaos and ignited the biggest diplomatic crisis in the Gulf since the 1991 war against Iraq.

A herd of 4,000 Holstein dairy cows will be flown in on around 60 flights from US and Australia. Reuters

A herd of 4,000 Holstein dairy cows will be flown in on around 60 flights from US and Australia. Reuters

Qatar, home to about 10,000 US troops and the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, criticised the move as a "violation of its sovereignty." It has denied supporting militant groups and described the crisis as being fueled by "absolute fabrications" stemming from a recent hack of its state-run news agency.

Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, through which the tiny Gulf nation and international travel hub imports most of its food, sparking a run on supermarkets.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began withdrawing their diplomatic staff from Qatar and regional airlines announced they would suspend service to its capital, Doha.

Yemen's internationally backed government, which no longer holds its capital and large portions of the war-torn country, also cut relations with Qatar, as did the Maldives and one of conflict-ridden Libya's competing governments.

The move came after US president Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia and vowed to improve ties with both Riyadh and Cairo to combat terrorism and contain Iran. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the move was rooted in longstanding differences and urged the parties to resolve them.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2017 16:11 PM

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