Reindeer herding: An indigenous food system in transition

Last changed: 03 June 2024
White reindeer in snow

How can collaboration between researchers and reindeer herders contribute to new innovative forms for connecting producers and consumers of reindeer herding products?


There is a rise in global awareness for a holistic approach on food systems with more reliance on traditional food. The indigenous food systems of the Arctic create good example for holistic utilisation of reindeer, its adaptation, co-existence to the local environment and utilization of local biological diversity. From originally being part of a subsistence economy, reindeer is today commodified. This makes products available for a wider public, at the same time there is a growing interest for reindeer meat.

Therefore, we can see a future potential for products utilising traditional knowledge (freezed steaks, minced meat, smoked or dried venison, reindeer side streams utilised in other industries). New technologies can open new connectivity between producers and consumers concerning food products as seen with the ‘Internet of foods’. ICT technology allows food products to be scanned for information on culture, ethics, transparency, nutritional quality and carbon footprint of foods.

Meanwhile, the commodification of reindeer products implies several challenges for the social, economic and ecological aspects of the traditional food system. Another challenge is how this transition interacts with the rights of indigenous people to control access to knowhow, materials and benefits of value-adding activities.

The project

We focus on three reindeer herding indigenous groups: Sami in Sweden and Finland and Nenets in Russia. The long-term aims of the project are:

  • to identify through collaborative methods, alternative ways for reindeer herders to process and market their products and interact with consumers;
  • But also to increase the awareness and knowhow about traditional food systems and their importance to Nordic food security for the wider public.

Our interdisciplinary team represents different disciplines, such as economics, sociology, nutrition and food science, law and ICT. Through a collaborative approach between researchers, indigenous and reindeer herder organisations and indigenous food producers we will to create new knowledge.

The objectives of the study

The immediate objective is to establish collaboration with key representatives of reindeer herders’ organisations and businesses engaged in marketing of reindeer products. This will be achieved through three workshops in each country through collaboration and interdisciplinary research approach. We are to create knowhow collectively and identify future areas for future collaborative development. We carry out a literature study on research on the way of reindeer meet from reindeer herders to consumers. New knowledge and results will be communicated through a final mini-symposium at SLU.

Workshops 2021

Final workshop 1-2 Dec 2021

A final workshop was held 1-2 December 2021. A summary of the conference, the programme and links to YouTube recordings of the presantations can be found here: Voicing indigenous food sovereignty in the global North: Concerns and struggles in Sweden, Finland, Russia and Canada 

Webbinar 7 June 2021

In June 2021, the project An indigenous food system in transition together with SLU Future Food organised the digital workshop "A vision for Sami food in the northernmost regions" to promote dialogue on Sami food and identify the way forward for regional cooperation. One of the conclusions from the workshop is that a clearer integration of Sami food culture in the regional strategies could lead to a strengthened local livelihood and a stronger local economy.

Workshops 2020

Archangelsk/Murmansk/Rovaniemi/Uppsala/Umeå 11 september 2020

During the workshop, the working team of the project met reindeer herders from Finland and Russia to discuss the importance of reindeer meat in the future food system. Praskovia Filant, President of the Association of the Reindeer Herders of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YNAO), talked about issues that indigenous peoples in the area are facing. Mika Aromäki, from Sámi Education Institute (SAKK), presented an Interreg Nord project that aims to facilitate dialogue between Sami people and researchers to increase the rights for Sami people to influence in issues that are concerning Sami culture. Janne Nakkalajärvi, from Sámi Education Institute (SAKK), gave a presentation about some of the issues that reindeer herders in Finland are facing. Janne Nakkalajärvi means that local slaughter houses are important for keeping the economy (???) within the local area, instead of selling the reindeer meat which can be exported. Due to Covid-19, the workshop was held through a digital link.

Learn more about the Sámi Education Institute (SOGSAKK)

Umeå 3 March 2020

The first workshop of the project was held during Ubmejen Biejvieh, the Sami week in Umeå, where initial discussions was held with Ellacarin Blind, who is sitting in the board of Slow Food Sápmi and also working in the National Association of Swedish Sami SSR. Ellacarin Blind described how both of these two organisations are working. The workshop was held at Várdduo - Centre for Sami Research at Umeå University. The second day, the research team of the project participated in the event AIMday sustainable development in Sápmi to discuss questions that Sami interest organisations had asked reseachers beforehand. One question was asked by Slow Food Sápmi and was about how research can clarify the collaboration between Sami food and food sovereignty as a part of the right of indigenous peoples.


Project leader

Ildikó Asztalos Morell, Associate Professor, Department for Rural Development, SLU

Academic collaborative partners

Lena Maria Nilsson, Research coordinator, Arctic Research Centre, and co-director at Vaartoe, the Centre for Sami Research, Umeå University

Bamidele Raheem, Senior Researcher, Northern Institute of Environmental and Minority Law, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi.

Kamrul Hossain, Research Professor and Director, Northern Institute of Environmental and Minority Law, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi.

Elena Bogdanova, Associate Professor, Northern Arctic Federal University, Arkhangelsk

Maxim Shishaev, Professor of Russian Academy of Sciences. Chief researcher at the Inst. for Informatics and Mathematical Modelling of Kola Science Centre of RAS & Prof. of Information systems and technologies at Murmansk Arctic State University.

Project participant

Izabel Nordlund, Research Assistant, Department for Rural Development, SLU,

Project time



SLU Future Food

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