A ship carrying 25,000 sheep from Australia has docked in Saudi Arabia. Picture for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: The first shipment of sheep from Australia in more than 12 years has arrived in Saudi Arabia where demand for meat surges during the month of Ramadan, a trade unionist has said.

The ship carried 25,000 sheep, according to Sulaiman Al Jabri, an ex-head of the Livestock Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce in the port city.

Prices at the Saudi meat market stabilised at the start of Ramadan in the wake of the delivery of the first Australian sheep shipment with more cargos expected in the lead-up to the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage season scheduled for June.

“The period ahead will witness receiving more shipments to meet the increasing demand for red meat and cover all needs of consumers among citizens, expatriate residents and pilgrims coming to the Holy Capital (Mecca) these days to spend the holy month of Ramadan at the Grand Mosque,” Al Jabri said, according to the Saudi news portal Sabq.

He anticipated meat prices to maintain stability in the next days amid state efforts to meet local needs and diversify sources of imports.

“Return to importation from Australia is part of the Saudi government’s keenness to fulfil food sufficiency,” Al Jabri added.

He expected another shipment of around 25,000 Australian sheep to arrive at the kingdom by the end of Ramadan.

The Saudi Ministry of Agriculture said earlier this week that the kingdom had imported 1.7 million heads of cattle in the past two months due to increasing demand for meat in Ramadan and the upcoming annual Hajj season.

Ramadan, which started in the kingdom Monday, is traditionally associated with big family gatherings for the iftar meal at the end of day-long fast.

Expecting a further rise in imports, the ministry said it is coordinating efforts with competent agencies to secure the required numbers of healthy livestock during the season.

The livestock, the ministry explained, are imported from Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, South Africa, Bahrain, Oman, Georgia, Romania, Bulgaria, Australia and Brazil. Imports have recently resumed from the UAE, Qatar and Jordan, it added.

Regulations and health rules for imports are updated according to the epidemiological situation in the exporting countries to ensure safety of the imported livestock.