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Demand for live animals spikes in Muslim-majority countries in the weeks before the holiday (of Eid al-Adha), and in years past, Qatar has struggled to supply enough livestock for Eid al-Adha celebrations. This year, the blockade promises to make that task all the more challenging.
A shipment of 32,000 sheep imported from Australia in late June arrived as expected, though it took 25 days to reach Qatar.
Australia, one of the world's largest sheep exporters, supplies 93 percent of the live sheep that Qatar imports; Widam brought in 80,000 Australian sheep ahead of Eid al-Adha in 2016 to supplement its usual stock of about 40,000 animals. Qatar's domestic meat trade is inherently fragile, hinging on a single company, Widam Food, which controls 85 percent of the meat distributed to Qatari butchers.Live sheep from Australia are cheaper than those imported from other countries, ringing up at 350 riyals, or about $95, compared with 1,750 riyals for a Syrian sheep or 1,500 riyals for one from Jordan. (Government subsidies can significantly lower the costs of Syrian and Jordanian animals, which Qataris prize for their size and flavor.) Even local sheep, at around 1,000 riyals per animal, are more expensive than their Australian counterparts.
Opposition to the practice (of shipping live animals long distances) substantially reduced the exports of live sheep from Australia to Qatar in 2008; they didn't bounce back until 2014, three years after Canberra enacted a measure to protect animal welfare. Should another interruption occur in Qatar's supply of Australian sheep, Doha would have fewer alternative sources to choose from than it did in 2012. That year, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan made up for the drastic dip in Australia's exports. Doha would likely have to look elsewhere to get the sheep it needs for Eid al-Adha. Sudan, one of the world's leading exporters of live sheep, has served as a minor supplier in the past and could step up its shipments to Qatar. Countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon and South Africa contributed modestly to Qatar's imports of live sheep in 2015. Kenya, meanwhile, signed an agreement with Doha in 2016 to start exporting a variety of agricultural goods, including livestock, to the Gulf state. Qatar may also increase its imports of Iranian sheep, considering its limited choices.