International Scientific Conference "Archeology of the Arctic"
November 19-23, 2017

Sustainable livelihoods of nomadic herdes at the current development stage.

1Kibenko V.A., 2Zuev S.M., 3Sukhova E.A.

Arctic Research Center of Yamalo-Nenets AO, Salekhard




The authors made an attempt to present an overview of the main social and economic factors and challenges which have a significant effect on the sustainable nomadic herders' livelihood in the Yamal district of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (hereinafter the YNAO). The publication is based on the materials of field studies obtained in the course of implementation of a research project "Social and economic sustainable livelihood factors and the social wellbeing of the peoples of the North in the territory of the YNAO maintaining a traditional way of life" [Zuev, Kibenko, Sukhova, 2017].

The subject of our research were the indigenous nomadic reindeer herders maintaining a traditional way of life. The object of the study were the social and economic factors and the social wellbeing of the people.

Our study was based on theoretical concepts developed by  A.V. Golovnev  [Golovnev, Lezova, Abramov, Belorussova, Babenkova, 2014], E. V. Perevalova [Perevalova, 2015], A.I. Pika [Pika, 1996, p. 47-55], A.V. Chayanov  [Chayanov, 1993], A.A. Yuzhakov [Yuzhakov, 2003], and others.

In December 2016, March-April 2017 we interviewed the nomadic population of the Panaev, the Yarsaly, the Seyakhin, the Tambei, the Novy Port, and the Mys Kamenny tundras in the Yamal district of the YNAO. The total sample size was 113 families. Both the qualitative (semi-formalized interviews), and the quantitative (questionnaires) sociological survey methods have been used for the collection of information.

Preliminary analysis of the primary data led to a number of conclusions on the main challenges faced by the herders' households at the present stage of development.

In the last decades of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century the indigenous peoples of the North of the Yamal district of the YNAO maintaining the traditional way of life - the nomadism tradition - faced a number of civilizational challenges: political, social, economic, natural and climatic, etc. significantly affecting the life and the economy of the Nenets herders.

First, in the end of the 20th century the political and the economic system in the country changed, which had a profound effect on the traditional herders' life.

Second, at that time an extensive industrial development of the traditional land use territories began, which had a negative effect on herding and fishing - the two traditional sectors of the traditional economy of the indigenous population on which their livelihood significantly depended. 

Third, extreme climatic conditions became a serious test for the herders: ice crust in 1998 and 2013-2014 winters; the unusually hot summers of 2013 and 2016. The ice crust resulted in the loss of a significant part of privately owned as well as of the municipal herds in the Yamal district.  The hot summer of 2016 created favorable conditions for the outbreak of anthrax resulting in the death of about 2,500 reindeer; 45 herders' families have been affected [Press release… (a), 2017]. The region's authorities provided all the necessary help to the herders [Press release…(b), 2017], however, one of the consequences of the outbreak was the loss of the summer pastures in the affected area.

Fourth, a system of the YNAO nomadic population social and economic support measures also played its role improving the demography and, as a result, the reindeer population growth. All this combined with the alienation of pasture lands for the needs of oil and gas industry and, hence, the concentration of large deer populations in limited territories resulted in the reduced availability and depletion of pastures.

Fifth, improvement of the standards of life in urban and rural communities created conditions for the outflow of the younger generation (mostly girls) from tundra, creating in its turn another problem of "brides deficit", which may lead in future to the drop of birth rate and the aging of the tundra population.

Sixth, the availability of modern snowmobiles, satellite television, modern means of communication, photo-video cameras  and computers, etc. resulted in the growth of expenditures for fuel, spares, etc. which also required an increase of the size of the herds.

Seventh, the general decrease of the living standard in the country during the crisis periods also had an effect on the tundra population of the Yamal district.  After the oil crisis of 2014 prices of food and manufactured goods, including the imported snowmobiles and power generators went up, at the same time the meat purchase price stayed unchanged. The ruble devaluation against the US dollar  contributed to an increase of purchase prices for antlers and dags, which helped many herders' families to compensate some of the growing expenses.

Eighth, the tundra population is subject to an ideological influence of various religious organizations, which may lead to a number of significant changes in the traditional way of life of the indigenous peoples. These transformations may undermine the foundations for the sustainable livelihood of the Nenets in the Far North and the Arctic.

Most of the herders are quite pessimistic about the current development trends, they do not believe that the traditional nomadism in its today's form may survive longer than 10-50 years.

The changes in the national polar and Arctic policy vector, acceleration of the industrial and infrastructural development of the Yamal peninsula, increased military presence, as well as the climate change would cause further transformations and pose new challenges to the sustainable livelihood of the indigenous peoples of the North.


Golovnev A.V., Lezova S.V., Abramov I.V. Belorusova S.Yu., Babenkova N.A. Ethno-expertise in Yamal: the Nenets herders' camps and gas fields. – Ekaterinburg: AMB Press, 2014 – 232 p.

Zuev S.M., Kibenko V.A., Sukhova E.A. Winter expedition to the Yamal district of YNAO report. SPI YaNAO "Arctic Research Center".   – Salekhard, 2017.

Perevalova E. V. Interviews of the Yamal herders about reindeer dieoff and the future of the Nenets nomadism // Ural Historical Vestnik, 2015. – № 2(47). – PP. 39-49.

Pika A.I. Neo-traditionalism in the Russian North: move into the future remembering the past.) // Sociologic surveys, 1996. – №11. – PP. 47-55.

Press release of the YNAO Government (a). Liquidation of the outbreak of anthrax in the Yamal district \\ URL: http://правительство.янао.рф/region/ecology/Likvid_vpishki/ (Access date: 02.05.2017)

Press release of the YNAO Government (b). All is back to normal - the camps and the deer \\ URL: http://правительство.янао.рф/region/ecology/Likvid_vpishki/ (Access date: 02.05.2017)

Chayanov A.V. Selected works. –M., 1993.

Yuzhakov A.A. Study of reindeer population norms for private sector in the YNAO.  – Salekhard  2003. – 54 p.

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