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Reindeer husbandry development opportunities in the Russian Arctic

The historical period of the beginning of reindeer herding by indigenous peoples of the North has not yet been determined. There are still debates among the supporters of one or another point of view. In our article we focus on the Nenets as the titular nation of the Samoyedic peoples. Thus, one of the versions says that the Nenets people hunted wild reindeer, and then tamed and farmed them beginning in the X-XI centuries. Another point of view is that the Nenets came to the territory of the present Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Regions much earlier, in the VI-VII centuries, before the Novgorodians came to the North and Moscow mastered the territory beyond the Urals.  Northern reindeer herding as we know it today, a stable form of agriculture and part of the traditional culture of Russia’s indigenous minorities, was finally formed in the 19th century.

                The reindeer herders consider their departure from a completely nomadic way of life as the main loss during the Soviet time. Their transition to sedentary life in national settlements resulted in the tradition of nomadism by families being an extinct part of culture, and male brigades became the norm of the present time. After the liquidation of the Institute of the Peoples of the North, which successfully solved this problem in the USSR, the training of personnel remains the most acute problem for reindeer husbandry.

After the liquidation of the kolkhozes and sovkhozes (state collective farms in Soviet Union) in the 1990s, there appeared family – clan communities and agricultural production cooperatives in the Arctic zone of Russia. The former are a type of non-profit associations, so making a profit is not their goal, while the latter are the main source of sustainable socio-economic existence for representatives of indigenous peoples of the North.

Comparative interregional analysis of reindeer husbandry in Russia highlights both regions as leaders in terms of herd size and revenue (Nenets autonomous area, Yamalo-Nenets autonomous area, Republic of (Sakha) Yakutia and Chukotka autonomous area) and followers (Murmansk Region, Komi Republic). The outsiders are the Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Republic of Karelia. The tendency to increase the total number of reindeer is observed in the Nenets, Yamalo-Nenets and Chukotka Autonomous Districts: by 19%, 73% and 17% respectively over the past 20 years.

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Figure 1 – Dynamics of reindeer in the farms of all types in the regions of the Russian Arctic zone from 1998 to 2018 (at the end of the year)

The marketing of venison also has its differences at the regional level.  In 2014 – 2018, the main volume of Russian exports of reindeer meat was carried out by agro-industrial enterprises in Yamal, as it is the only region in the Russian Federation that has the right to export reindeer products to the European Union. The biggest share of exports goes to European countries: Germany and Finland. In the Murmansk region and Nenets autonomous area the enterprises are being certified in order to obtain the permission to export the reindeer meat abroad. Agricultural production cooperative (hereinafter – APC) “Tundra” from the Lovozero District plans to start supplying meat to the EU at the end of 2020. In 2014 – 2018, the volume of Russian venison exports ranged from 335.6 tons. (in 2015) to 464.9 t.  Overall, the figure increased by 3.2% over 2014-2018.  Exporters of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area will supply 400 tons of venison and 13 thousand reindeer skins abroad in 2020. Supplies of agro-industrial products to European countries have already started and are being shipped within the framework of the regional project “Export of Agricultural Products” as part of the Russian national project “International Cooperation and Export.   In 2021 – 2023, venison exports from Russia will grow at an average rate of 5.4% per year, and according to BusinessStat Consulting Agency estimates in 2023 it will reach 601.6 tons.  Venison products produced in the Republic (Sakha) Yakutia, Nenets and Chukotka Autonomous Areas are primarily focused on meeting domestic demand in the territories of this entity. But recently there is a new trend for supplies to other subjects of the Russian Federation megacities and regional centers. At the same time, reindeer meat has a leading position in comparison with other meat products, both in terms of price and quality. 

Among the largest farms engaged in reindeer breeding are Municipal Unitary Enterprise  “Yarsalinskoye”, APC “Izhemsky Olenevod and Co”, APC “Tundra” and APC “Put’ Ilyicha”. However, reindeer breeding has its own specific features. For example, the specifics of Arkhangelsk oblast is that in its territory in facts the economic activity of reindeer breeders of Kanin tundra of Nenets Autonomous Okrug (APC “Kanin”) takes place, but the organization is registered in Nenets Autonomous Area, and therefore the beneficiary is the neighboring subject. A similar situation exists with the Komi-Izhemsk Reindeer Herder APC, which grazes reindeer in the Nenets Autonomous Area, but processes and sells its products in the Komi Republic. We believe that the authorities, the business community and the public, in the near future, should find mechanisms for sustainable and mutually beneficial farming in such cases.   The system of state support also has regional specifics. For example, in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area, it is the most fundamental and is represented by subsidies for reindeer keeping and reindeer meat production, and there is also a system of targeted grants to support reindeer breeding. In Nenets Autonomous Area these are subsidies to agricultural producers who have a herd included in the register. Only since 2017, the Nenets Autonomous Area has had a regional system of subsidies to increase the number of reindeer for family and clan communities, which, unlike SPKs, do not receive federal subsidies like those in Yakutia or Yamal.

The statistical analysis of the categories of farms in reindeer herding showed that the share of peasant (farmer) farms, individual entrepreneurs and households ranges from 3% in the Chukotka Autonomous Area to 75% in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area (Figure 2).

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Figure 2 – The share of households among all categories of reindeer husbandry from 1998 to 2018 years.  

              This situation testifies to the significant role of reindeer breeding as an economic activity for the Arctic regions. The significant decline in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and in the Chukotka Autonomous Area may indicate the transition of individual farms to the format of agricultural organizations. However, despite this, in the Arkhangelsk Oblast, Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Areas, individual farming as one of the categories of reindeer breeding plays a significant role for the local residents.

Both the Unions of Reindeer Herders in the national entities (Nenets autonomous area, Yamalo-Nenets autonomous area, Murmansk region, Chukotka autonomous area) and the National Union of Reindeer Herders are engaged in protecting the interests of reindeer herding family and clan communities. Reindeer husbandry, as one of the traditional economies of the Russian Federation’s indigenous minorities, is also represented by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, which unites 41 peoples, numbering about 250,000 people, organized into 34 regional and ethnic associations. At the international level, Russian reindeer herders are protected by the Association “World Reindeer Herders” established in the Republic (Sakha) of Yakutia. Targeted State programs are of great importance. In Murmansk region, the development of the targeted regional program for the support of reindeer breeding started.  In Nenets autonomous area, for example, the state support of reindeer herders is carried out along with other types of agriculture.

From the point of view of institutional theory and sustainable development, reindeer husbandry in Russia, despite the differences in internal structure, external environment, remains one of the few – classic sustainable institutions.  Since 2004, the “Economic Programs Foundation” has carried out scientific and applied research activities of the institution of rural entrepreneurship as an updated sustainable socio-economic host model in rural areas, which includes traditional agriculture and services (such as trade and transport), and innovative economic activities (tourism, social entrepreneurship and others). Based on the results of activities in Nenets autonomous area in 2015-2018, the administration of “Economic Programs Foundation” in cooperation with the Administration of the Nenets Autonomous Area, other stakeholders practically implemented a program to involve reindeer herders, representatives of Komi and Nenets peoples, in tourism, exchange of Russian and US experience on preservation of traditional culture, environment and entrepreneurship. Sustainable tourism for reindeer herders is both an emphasis on an original, endangered culture and an additional source of income. This fact can serve as a proof of testing the institution of rural entrepreneurship, as well as the sustainability of reindeer husbandry in the modern conditions of the Arctic dynamic development.

Thus, reindeer breeding remains a promising area of development as a type of economic activity for the regions of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation. The export range can be expanded. According to the results of preliminary negotiations between Yamal reindeer breeders and German partners, Germany is ready to take up to 500 tons of by-products, about 100 tons of bone, and about 20 tons of reindeer blood in 2021. Bone is a source of collagen and calcium, and blood is a source of protein, iron, etc. In addition, reindeer by-products are hypoallergenic and can be used to produce hypoallergenic premium dog and cat food. Another promising area of waste use is the production of cosmetics, because hooves and bone are a source of collagen, which is actively used in the beauty industry. New markets for export are also promising. For example, there are requests for supplies of venison from the UAE, China and other Asian countries, but this requires obtaining additional permits for Russian reindeer herders.

Thus, reindeer breeding remains a promising area of development as a type of economic activity for the regions of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation. The export range can be expanded. According to the results of preliminary negotiations between Yamal reindeer breeders and German partners, Germany is ready to take up to 500 tons of by-products, about 100 tons of bone, and about 20 tons of reindeer blood in 2021. Bone is a source of collagen and calcium, and blood is a source of protein, iron, etc. In addition, reindeer by-products are hypoallergenic and can be used to produce hypoallergenic premium dog and cat food. Another promising area of waste use is the production of cosmetics, because hooves and bone are a source of collagen, which is actively used in the beauty industry. New markets for export are also promising. For example, there are requests for supplies of venison from the United Arab Emirates, China and other Asian countries, but this requires obtaining additional permits for Russian reindeer herders.

Ulyana E. Yakusheva, Senior Lecturer, State and Municipal Administration Department, Northern (Arctic) Federal State University named after M.V. Lomonosov, Researcher at Russian Academy of Sciences Federal Centre for Integrated Arctic Research named after N.P. Laverov, Member of APECS Russia

Yan V. Turov, Director, NGO “Economic Programs Foundation”, “Association of the Polar Explorers” member, Expert on the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation development (https://arctic2035.ru/experts/?PAGEN_1=3)

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