The influence of world politics in the forest of Northern Lapland

We all know that the current situation with Russia and Ukraine is rapidly changing a lot of the ways and values on which we have been relying in the past decades for our everyday lives. But recently I was surprised when discussing the impacts with Karoliina Majuri, a reindeer herder and colleague here at Lapland University Consortium. I would not have imagined that this influence even extends all the way to the presence and future of reindeer meat production, consumption and the feeding of reindeer in Finland!

One of the last reindeer feeding sessions before the animals leave the home area for the summer

On the one hand, they say that 35% of the meat sold by one of Finland’s biggest reindeer meat companies – Lapin Liha – was imported from Russia before, among others from our friends in Yamal and Murmansk region. That is not going to happen for the next slaughtering season probably. This may increase the price of reindeer meat inside Finland, which is good news for producers such as Karoliina. But on the other hand, most reindeer in Finland nowadays are fed with industrially made special fodder (rehu), made of oat, barley and other ingredients, and also with hay or silage. Not that the herders are so keen to feed their animals – the problem is that the pastures are much more scarce than for example in Siberia. One reason for that is the competition over pastures between reindeer and other land users in Finland.  So in order to have a herd of a viable size you can hardly survive without feeding at least for three months in winter. This Finnish made rehu is of natural ingredients and in high demand, but for growing these ingredients they use fertilisers (for both – pellets and hay/silage). And fertilisers (components of fertilisers) come a lot from Russia. So what is the impact on the reindeer fodder going to be when the farmers will experience a deficit of fertilisers? Karoliina says the reindeer rehu production would be the last priority in the food security chain.  First one would make sure that the fields for direct human nutrition are supplied with fertilisers. Then the next one in turn would be fodder and hay grounds and pastures for cattle. Nobody knows how much will be left for the fields that grow the ingredients for reindeer rehu.

It turns out this fertiliser thing is no joke: Europe’s largest producer of phosphate based fertilisers is PhosAgro, a company we know well from our work in previous research projects.

The underdground tunnel network of PhosAgro for fertiliser extraction is approximately as long as the tunnel network of the New York Metro! Think about the scale of this industry!

They are the principal company in our field site in Kirovsk, a mining town and ski resort in Murmansk region in Russia.

A view from one of my favourite slopes for downhill skiing on the first phosphate village in Murmansk region: Kukisvumchorr in Kirovsk

Obviously now with the sanctions, they are not going to supply these fertilisers to Finland anymore. Karoliina and her partner are aware of this and wonder how they can secure their supplies of reindeer feed for the next season before everyone notices that the production of rehu is going to go down in this deficit situation.

So, it’s a matter of perspective: do you want to look at the hopeful or the worrying news: are reindeer herders going to benefit because they can sell their meat for a higher price – or are they going to suffer because they will compete among each other for limited supplies of reindeer feed or even make a bankruptcy because of high price?

Of course there are much more important things to worry about in connection to the political situation now. But I found it hard to believe that even in such a question the Ukraine crisis affects life in the far-away Arctic down to everyday routine.

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