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The Economics of Reindeer Herding: Saami Entrepreneurship between Cyclical Sustainability and the Powers of State and Oligopolies


  • Reinert, Erik S.


This paper attempts to explain the drastic fall in income experienced by Saami reindeer herders in Northern Norway between 1976 and 2000, in spite of increasing government subsidies. Saami herders maintain a legal monopoly as suppliers of reindeer meat, a traditional luxury product in Norway. This paper shows that a review of the literature is supported by qualitative interviews. The paper argues that main explanatory variables are to be found in the interaction of a number of factors, mainly: cyclical climatic variation in Northern Norway; a system with fixed prices, independent of the variations in supply, that magnified the effects of the natural cycles; increasingly severe sanitary regulations forcing Saami herders to abandon slaughtering and preparation; and the oligopoly market powers of the non-Saami actors taking over slaughtering and processing. It is argued that the fall in herders’ income resulted from a failure of the Norwegian Department of Agriculture to understand key factors distinguishing sub-Arctic herding from sedentary agriculture. Sanitary requirements and the government’s quest for economies of scale in processing contributed to playing the volume of production into the hands of non-Saami oligopolies. In this way the Saami herders lost the meat production that traditionally was at the core of both their culture and their economic livelihood. Originality/value – The paper is relevant for the management of herding and other production systems in areas with cyclical production, and documents the damaging effects on the aboriginal culture resulting from Norway’s exclusive use of modern agricultural science in managing such systems.

Suggested Citation

  • Reinert, Erik S., 2006. "The Economics of Reindeer Herding: Saami Entrepreneurship between Cyclical Sustainability and the Powers of State and Oligopolies," MPRA Paper 49798, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:49798

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Reinert, Erik S., 2002. "Reinkjøtt: Natur, Politikk, Makt og Marked
      [Reindeer Meat: Nature, Politics, Power, and Markets]
      ," MPRA Paper 48152, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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    Cited by:

    1. Iulie Aslaksen & Solveig Glomsrød & Anne Ingeborg Myhr, 2007. "Ecology and economy in the Arctic. Uncertainty, knowledge and precaution," Discussion Papers 525, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    2. Erik S. Reinert & Rainer Kattel, 2007. "European Eastern Enlargement as Europe's Attempted Economic Suicide?," The Other Canon Foundation and Tallinn University of Technology Working Papers in Technology Governance and Economic Dynamics 14, TUT Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance.

    More about this item


    Culture (sociology); Government policy; Meat; Entrepreneurialism; Norway;

    JEL classification:

    • B00 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General - - - History of Economic Thought, Methodology, and Heterodox Approaches
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General


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