Australia’s export protocols and its disease-free status are the envy of Dorper breeders in South Africa.
Although the breed was developed there in the late 1940s, it’s countries such as Australia that are profiting the most from the genetics.
“You are selling our product to the world,” is how a Gauteng province grower put it to an international gathering of journalists recently.
Dorpers, together with Boer goats, South African Mutton Merinos, Bonsmara cattle, Northern Cape Speckle and Eastern Cape Xhosa goats, and Damara sheep, were on show and it wasn’t hard to see why their owners were itching to share them with export markets.
Each exhibit was an outstanding example of its breed - in the words of Dorper and Boer goat breeder, Conrad Herbst, they “stand ready to mitigate the challenges of climate change”, thanks to their thriveability in hot and arid conditions.
Blocking the way are diseases, government inertia and ironically, the climate.
Rift valley fever, foot and mouth disease, bluetongue, and Q fever all prevent South Africa from exporting its animals to anywhere but the Middle East and other African countries. The lucrative markets of China and Europe are blocked off.
As well as being able to boast of a superior sanitary health status, Australia’s more progressive trade protocols mean farmers here are globally supplying embryos and live animals to clients in search of South African genetics.
South African farmers bemoan the lack of progress in negotiating similar export protocols by their government, especially as the export of embryos and semen has a negligible disease risk if all quarantine and health-testing procedures are followed correctly.
The country has been exporting its genetics this way for several years to countries such as Australia and Brazil.
However, Conrad Herbst says that while there are “undoubtedly political and commercial arrangements involved”, water, or the lack of it, is preventing the Dorper industry from making the most of markets at home and abroad.
“We can’t stock supermarkets,” he said. “As soon as we have to feed, we’ve lost our profits.”
There are 600 Dorper farmers in South Africa, mostly in Northern and Eastern Cape provinces, breeding 12 million animals, and Conrad says that number could be three times larger if they could export.
He sees the “formalisation” of the country’s subsistence farmer base as a way for the country to improve.
“It’s been proven - the lack of government resources and water - that’s why they’re not making it,” he said. “If they could get medicines and skills, we’d do much better.”