Baladna Dairy began operations within a month after Qatar’s neighbors cut off ties and imposed a trade blockade. More than 18,000 cows were transported from the U.S. to the small, landlocked gulf state by airplane and ship.

DOHA, QATAR, January 04, 2020 /24-7PressRelease/ — Before June 2017, when Qatar’s neighbors severed diplomatic and trade ties, the oil-rich Arab gulf state imported nearly all its food through the Saudi border crossing at Salwa, and by ship from Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port.

Doha food distributor Ahmed Al-Khalaf remembers the first stressful days after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain imposed a blockade.

“It was a big surprise for Qatar to wake up and find that the border was closed,” said Al-Khalaf, the CEO of International Projects Development Company, a food importer and investor in local greenhouses.

Egypt, which has the biggest army in the Arab world and 20,000 nationals working in Qatar, quickly joined the embargo, accelerating a sense of shock and vulnerability.

“We had more than a thousand trucks waiting to come inside waiting at the Salwa Border gate and five thousand containers in Jebel Ali, most of them containing foodstuffs,” Al-Khalaf said.

Qatar continues to refuse the blockading states’ demands that it shut down broadcaster al-Jazeera, reduce diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, and send back the nearly 3,000 Turkish troops stationed in the emirate.

But even without an embargo, Qatar’s harsh climate, sandy soil, and water scarcity challenge its food security, especially when it comes to growing greens and vegetables or producing milk.

“This all happened during Ramadan when everybody is consuming three times more than normal. I had to fly from Qatar to Iran and other countries to buy food, and we paid twice, sometimes three times the usual price to bring it here by airplane and ships,” Al-Khalaf recalls.

Those difficulties are tackled at Al-Khalaf’s farm in Al Khor, where hydroponic greenhouses are yielding cherry tomatoes, chard, mushrooms, and eggplants.

“Today Qatar is covering almost 30 percent of the demand for vegetables,” said agronomist Fahd Bin Salah. “The irrigation is computerized; this is an organic farm where we don’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Our aquaponic system uses fish waste to feed the plants, and we use beneficial insects that feed off harmful pests.”

With desalination plants, Qatar can supply enough drinking water for its population. Still, when it came to milk, it relied for 80 percent of it on product trucked in from Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s Almarai Dairy is double the size of the largest dairy farm in the U.S. It produces more than 58 million gallons of milk yearly. It also receives financial support from the government in Riyadh.

“Before 2017, it wouldn’t have been worth the marketing costs to compete with Saudi brands,” said Moutaz Al Khayyat, Chairman of Power Holding International, which founded the Baladna dairy with the inception of the blockade.

The company has over 40,000 employees on its payroll, mostly in the construction business.

Before the blockade, Power Holding was best known locally as the builder of the Khalifa International Stadium, one of the main venues for the 2022 FIFA’s World Cup.

“When the embargo came, we worked with our government to bring in 4,000 American cows by air and another 16,000 by boat,” Al Khayyat said. “Our dairy began producing milk 35 days after the blockade started, and today, we have one of the biggest state-of-the-art farms in the Middle East.”

Keeping the cows fresh and fed is expensive.

Between March and October, the average high temperature in Doha hovers around 37 degrees C. Industrial fans cool Al Hayyat’s herd with a constant breeze and a massive network of mist-producing water pipes.

Even though Qatar dedicates 54% of its cropland to producing animal fodder, there is still not enough hay for the country’s growing herds of cattle, goats, and sheep.

“We are spending up to $100 million a year to import feed from the U.S.,” added Al Kayyat.

It’s a reciprocal relationship.

The U.S. airbase at Al Udeid is now relying on Baladna for its dairy requirements instead of trucking it in from Saudi or flying it from Germany.

The embargo and the resulting self-sufficiency drive have not only expanded Qatar’s agricultural landscape. It’s also reconfiguring the country’s financial markets.

Qatar’s government-run sovereign wealth fund is valued at around $320 billion. But it’s vested almost entirely in holdings outside the country. A growing stock exchange is listing more companies that produce for the local market.

“We are encouraging family-owned companies to come to the stock exchange,” said QSE CEO Rashid Bin Ali Al Mansoori. “These companies are mainly in the non-oil sector, such as health care, construction, and consumer products.”

In November, the Al Khayyat family put up 75 percent of their dairy company on the Qatar stock exchange.

“Listing our shares will help make Baladna more sustainable, to prepare it for the future after the blockade ends,” said Al Khayyat.

The November IPO for Baladna was oversubscribed, a positive sign for the Qatar stock exchange looking to attract international investors.

But Qatari consumers are simply relieved by their nation’s newfound food self-sufficiency.

“It’s better to feel independent and have your own products in your country,” said 41-year-old homemaker Aman Qadodora. “You feel safer.

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Baladna is a trusted milk, dairy, juice and food brand in Qatar, Driven by excellence and the highest quality standards, Baladna is located north of the city of Doha and spreads over an area of 2.4 million sqm, with a capacity to house 24,000 cows. Baladna provides a comfortable and well-conditioned environment for the cows, allowing them to reach their production capacity comfortably.

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