During the DairyNZ Farmers Forum back in May the comment was made that farmers and the industry needed to get out and see what the rest of the world was doing, to gain perspective and broaden thinking. Well, that is effectively what I have just done. Not just during my time in Germany either.
During my stay in Doha I learnt a great deal about agriculture in Qatar. From their meat markets through to the 4000 cow intensive dairy farm it homes.
Agriculture in Qatar is limited in scope largely due to the harsh climate and lack of arable land. The soils lack nutrients in sufficient quality to grow much of anything with only 2.5 % (about 28,000 ha) of land in suitable for used as pastureland. Farming plays a minor role in the economy. Dates are the most abundant permanent crop in the state.
Commonly Qataris who own agricultural land hold government jobs and employ Iranians, Pakistanis or non-Qatari Arabs to manage their farms.There is a demonstration farm owned by the Qatari government which may be as a result of the government encouraging agriculture and fishing in the state, but with limited resources, their reliance on imported products remains high.
The dairy farm and factory came as a surprise to me, dairy, was the last thing I expected to find in Doha. Al maha produces milk based products with milk from its Al Rawdah dairy farm,both of which are owned by one of the largest business groups in the state of Qatar. Situated on 550 ha of farmland, cows are ‘fed on fodder cultivated from the lands.”
To be perfectly honest with you, I struggled to see how anything could grow in Doha, capital of Qatar, which is basically a dust bowl, so I suspect some of the photos on their website of lush green grass might be trying to pull the wool over our eyes.If time had permitted, it would have been amazing to go and see this farm in action.
What I did manage to find out was that the cows are housed under 200,000 square foot sheds and milked twice a day in fully automatic sheds. If I ever feel compelled to go back to Qatar (which to be honest, unless its to visit the boyfriends family, won’t be any time soon unless they let me wear shorts), I would love to carve out some time to visit this set up. I have so many questions about production levels, systems, nutrition and animal health.
The meat markets were an experience, and not just because of the fact the boyfriends dad insisted of stopping and chatting to the locals, who mistakenly thought that we wanted to buy a camel or goat to chuck on the back of the land rover.
Most of the food in Qatar is imported from other middle eastern countries but the meat market and fruit and vegetable markets provide a bit of local produce. The animal market is pens upon pens of livestock (alive). Camels, sheep, goats, chickens and cows. From what I gather, one can pick the animal they want and have it delivered (usually on the back of the workers) to the slaughter-house for processing.
With the exception of the camels, the other animals we saw were jammed into the pens like sardines in a can and I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for them huddled together in the 50 degree heat. In saying that, the livestock in Qatar seem relatively well acclimatized to their environment and they certainly didn’t looked distressed.
I can’t see this sort of thing going down overly well here in New Zealand, but again, it highlights the stark differences in cultures. We are, for want of a better phrase, worlds apart. My very first encounter with middle eastern life occurred at the airport. Upon arrival the boyfriend had warned me how middle eastern men could be towards women. When we got to passport control, the man behind the desk didn’t even so much as look at me, any question about me was direct to the boyfriend while I stood awkwardly behind him. Thankfully, this wasn’t a trend throughout our time there, although the men that were nice to me happened to also want to sell me stuff.
The thing struggled with the most was having to adapt and respect their culture and the way they do things. Like the no shorts thing. And the Ramadan thing. But this is life in the middle east, in some ways they are progressive (you only need look at some of the impressive buildings going up in Doha) and in other ways remain very traditional.