Reindeer industry braces for downturn as export orders slump

90% of agriculture in Russia's Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous district is based on reindeer breeding, making it the main source of income for the indigenous Nenets people. But the industry is being hit by the economic crisis.

At a Nenets reindeer breeders community, they pitched their chooms at this pasture just two days ago. But soon they will gather their herd to hit the snowy road again.

Nomadic lifestyle is their nature and it’s something they don’t want to change – Reindeer is the main source of their income. Most of them are privately owned and only 28% belong to agricultural cooperatives. Maksim Khudi, a reindeer breeder, is typical of a hardy people.

“Half of our herd is state owned the rest is private. We breed reindeer and hand them over to sovkhos or to the factory. We receive a salary twice a year, but we don’t spend it – we buy necessary food and save the rest of the money.”

A meat processing plant was built nearby five years ago. At the time, there was no demand for reindeer meat outside the Yamalo-Nents Autonomous district at all. Now the factory has five shops and is receiving orders from other regions.

But sales have dropped 30% in the financial crisis. And expansion into the western as well as Russian markets is hindered by other difficulties according to Evgeny Amaltsev, Director of the Yamal Reindeers Plant.

“We have orders from Germany, Italy, Greece and Latvia. But to provide supplies we can only use helicopters and winter roads. Soon the ice will melt and we won’t be able to work for a month. Logistics is one of our major problems.”

But manufacturers remain confident of the future for their products, with the “Yamal reindeer” brand guaranteeing a unique and high quality product.