2013 Anna Degteva, Christian Nellemann. Nenets migration in the landscape: impacts of industrial development in Yamal peninsula, Russia

Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice. Volume 3, Article number: 15 (2013) 


Worldwide, traditional pastoralists are facing challenges of industrial development and competitive land use interfering with their nomadic lives. The Yamal peninsula in western Siberia, a homeland of nomadic Nenets reindeer herders, has been subjected to the Bovanenkovo gas field industrial development since the 1980s. We quantitatively assess how industrial development impacts Nenets migration routes and camp sites and discuss implications for their quality of life. In cooperation with herders, we mapped 21 migration routes and followed two reindeer herder brigades for 15 weeks in July 2008 to August 2009, providing insight into both the social and physical challenges facing Nenets herders. Terrain ruggedness, willow cover, migration routes and camp (chum) sites were recorded on 2 × 2 km grid cells on topographic maps. Rugged terrain with willows (31% of the study area), which is land particularly suitable and valuable for reindeer husbandry, contained nearly 61% of all migration routes. All clusters (>8 km2) of rugged terrain were used for grazing, migration and camp sites, reflecting few alternative land opportunities. Many 1- to 3-km narrow passages of such terrain created natural ‘bottlenecks’ for Nenets migrations in the Yamal landscape. These bottlenecks, used by three to six different reindeer brigades, are crucial for the herders, while competition for land with industrial developers within these areas is particularly high. The physical footprint of Bovanenkovo installations is small, but for the three herding units migrating through these bottlenecks, the industrial development resulted in blockage of two out of four possible routes, loss of major grazing areas and subsequent loss of access to at least 18 traditional camp sites and one sacred site along their traditional route. The combined actions of physical and social impacts from industrial development have reduced migration opportunities and the quality and access to natural resources in the herding cycle. This has thus affected the lives and well-being of indigenous herders in Yamal.

Figure 1. Traditional chum or tent camp site amongst Nenets pastoralists in the Yamal peninsula, Russia.
Figure 2. Major infrastructure and general migration routes of selected reindeer herding brigades and private units, Yamal peninsula.
Figure 3. Nenets herders mark migration routes on topographic maps during the field work in Yamal, Russia.
Figure 4. Nenets herders mark migration routes on topographic maps during the field work in Yamal, Russia.
Figure 5. Children practising throwing lasso on hill. This type of rugged terrain is typical of Yamal, consisting of slender rolling of hills in an otherwise very flat landscape and of crucial importance to the herders.
Figure 6. LANDSAT images of Bovanenkovo area from (a) 1987 and (b) 2009.
Figure 7. Loss of migration routes and barriers to Nenets reindeer herding migrations.
Figure 8. Nenets children are trusted to take responsibility for important tasks as part of the nomadic life.
Figure 9. Nomadic family life is still preserved among the Nenets in Yamal, where children learn through observation and are included in every aspect of life.
Figure 10. Women preparing a cooking fire from willows during a strenuous migration through the Bovanenkovo industrial complex.
Figure 11. Woman doing her chores inside a tent on an elevated camp site. This is so typical of the ‘rugged’ terrain.
Figure 12. Crossing rivers is highly demanding for the reindeer herders.
Figure 13. A Nenets child playing on a sled in a chum or camp site on elevated ground.
Figure 14. Sunset at a camp site on a hill in ‘rugged’ terrain.
Additional file 1: Reindeer herders crossing Bovanenkovo industrial complex and roads with their reindeer during migration
Additional file 2: Nenets migrations and crossing of river in Bovanenkovo industrial complex, Yamal, Russia

Source – Pastoralism – Research, Policy and Practice

Categories: English, Yamal pastures

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