Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Reinkjøtt: Natur, Politikk, Makt og Marked

Reinert, Erik S. (2002): Reinkjøtt: Natur, Politikk, Makt og Marked. Published in:

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This lengthy report is the result of a research project originally started by attempting to explain why the Saami reindeer herders in Norway - the last aboriginal tribe in Western Europe - in spite of having a monopoly on the production of reindeer meat, traditionally a luxury food item in Norway, suffered increasing economic hardship. From being an extremely profitable activity until the mid-1970, twenty years later most herder families were losing money. The answer to the question lies in the interplay between the factors listed in the title; nature, politics, power, and markets. Reindeer herding was submitted to a political regime originally established for stable barn production, with a system of "target prices" annually negotiated with the government. However, the target prices were not adjusted to the natural cycles of Nature's carrying capacity. The number of reindeer in Northern Scandinavia increases cyclically by 70 to 80 per cent from bottom to peak. By attempting to keep the same price and the same level of production - ignoring Nature's cyclical production of reindeer meat - the Ministry of Agriculture created other cycles: on the one hand overproduction when prices were not allowed to fall as production increased, and - on the other hand - economic misery when prices were not allowed to rise when the volume of production shrank dramatically. In an attempt to solve the crisis - but without understanding its causes - the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture left the marketing of reindeer meat to the national meat monoply of the farmers (Norsk Kjøtt), who were in effect the main competitors to the reindeer herders as suppliers of meat in Norway.

In conclusion: left to themselves as capitalist entrepreneurs in the market - until the mid-1970s - the Saami reindeer herders had been doing very well. The problems started when the political elements - represented by the Ministry of Agriculture - forced reindeer herding in Norway into a regime set up for stable barn production, and set up a colonial-type system where the reindeer owners lost economic control over the two most profitable elements in the value chain - slaughtering and marketing - to non-Saami economic actors.

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