When people from overseas think of New Zealand what do they think of?
The All Blacks, Flight of the Conchords and sheep. New Zealand produces the fourth largest export of sheep meat globally and has around 29 million sheep, although in the past this number has reached 60 million.
When close to four million international visitors come to our shores they look to buy things that will remind them of New Zealand. Visitors who find themselves in a tourist destination, like the Hawke's Bay, are wanting to get something quintessential Kiwi to take home as a gift. They visit tourist shops and reach for pure white toy sheep decorated with cheeky grins.
Overseas that present may be warmly received, dragged around by the child that fell in love with it at first glance, the toy will be placed proudly on a book shelf for years to come, a reminder of that visit to our great shores. And yet as William Blake observed in the 18th century "Little Lamb who made thee?" Well chances are that toy was not made in New Zealand and its fleece is anything but New Zealand wool that it supposedly represents.
Last year New Zealand imported about $19 million worth of stuffed animals or other creature toys according to figures supplied to Statistics New Zealand. That was a big year for us. In 2017 we imported just over $17m worth of the same toys.
The promotion of this practice ignores New Zealand wool. In recent times wool has struggled with lower demand and a glut in global prices, while other overhead costs for farmers escalated. So, we need, as a nation, to think creatively and support New Zealand wool. It would seem that a natural place to start might be in the production of replica lambs. Made with NZ Wool. Backing ourselves to develop new and innovative quality products will assist in raising the profile of wool.
Imagine in the not too distant future when tourists buy that little bit of Kiwiana, they could be taking home a piece of real New Zealand. Cute little soft toy sheep made by New Zealanders with New Zealand Wool.
Julie Geange is Federated Farmers Meat & Wool policy adviser