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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - November 2018

Co-production of knowledge generates new insights into the changing Arctic

“The programme itself provides an excellent and unique opportunity for Nordic collaboration in Arctic research, and it’s great to see how it’s bringing natural and social sciences together as equals in a field that has traditionally been dominated by natural sciences. I’m particularly thrilled to see the programme expanding to increasingly involve indigenous communities and scholars in Arctic-related research”, says Rauna Kuokkanen, Professor of Arctic Indigenous Studies at the University of Lapland and chair of the Responsible Development of the Arctic research programme, funded by NordForsk.

Arctic-related research brings challenges concerning power, representation of culture and integration of different knowledge systems. All projects in the research programme are addressing the relationship between research and local, traditional practices, such as reindeer husbandry.

“Due to multiple forces of change, the availability of natural grazing resources has declined, and supplementary feeding has become an increasing necessity in reindeer husbandry,” says Camilla Risvoll, researcher in CLINF, one of the Nordic Centres of Excellence in the programme. However, supplementary feeding may have implications for the Sami reindeer culture, as it imposes change on traditional herding practices.

“Supplementary feeding has implications at economic, cultural, environmental, and health-related levels,” explains Risvoll. “Norwegian herders, for example, have expressed concerns about the potential loss of traditional knowledge if herders, and the next generation of herders, have to spend their time feeding the animals instead of maintaining traditional herding practices. Supplementary feeding often requires keeping the herd close to fenced areas, while reindeer husbandry has always been about being out in the landscape with the herd.”

Risvoll and 20 other researchers joined forces with 24 reindeer herders from Finland, Norway and Sweden earlier this year in a workshop, where they mapped challenges and opportunities relating to supplementary feeding in reindeer husbandry. The workshop was organised jointly by three of the Nordic Centres of Excellence, CLINF, ReiGN and REXSAC. The researchers represented a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, geography, ecology, sociology and veterinary science.

Dialogue between herders and researchers vital in knowledge production

“An important aim of the workshop was to create an arena for the 24 herders to share knowledge and discuss experiences and concerns about the opportunities and challenges brought by the supplementary feeding across countries and cultures,” says Risvoll. “We also invited researchers from different backgrounds to be part of that dialogue, and identified future needs for knowledge co-production amongst herders and researchers.”

The participants are now in the process of writing a report based on the workshop, in close collaboration with the herders and some of the researchers who participated in the workshop.

“The reindeer herders have invaluable knowledge about the issues concerning supplementary feeding and its possible implications at different levels. Many questions remain unanswered and there is a need for further knowledge exchange”, says Risvoll.

Risvoll sees these activities as a first step in continued knowledge co-production about a very important topic with potentially large implications for husbandry practices.

“We need to have this dialogue when working with these kinds of issues. I hope such dialogue and bridging of different knowledge systems is a step in the right direction to increase the adaptive capacity of reindeer husbandry in the Nordic countries.”

Want to know more?

The NordForsk Research Programme Responsible Development of the Arctic: Opportunities and Challenges – Pathways to Action will generate new, cross-disciplinary knowledge of highest international quality, about the opportunities and challenges facing the Arctic region. Four Nordic Centres of Excellence were set up in 2016.

Activities at Arctic Climate Predictions: Pathways to Resilient, Sustainable Societies (ARCPATH) focus on socio-economic changes in specific coastal communities in Iceland, Greenland and in northern Norway. Its objective is to combine improved regional climate prognoses with a deeper understanding of interactions between environmental, social and economic factors in these communities, to generate new knowledge and approaches to ensure responsible development in the Arctic.

Climate-change effects on the epidemiology of infectious diseases and the impacts on Northern societies (CLINF)  is investigating how climate change in the Arctic can give rise to new medical and social health issues, and how to meet future challenges in the most effective way.

Reindeer Husbandry in a Globalizing North – Resilience, Adaptations and Pathways for Actions (ReiGN) aims to gain insight into how climate change and other processes in the Arctic will affect reindeer husbandry in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Resource Extraction and Sustainable Arctic Communities (REXSAC) will be studying oil and gas activity and, in particular, mining operations in the north. Its ambition is to generate research findings that benefit the population in the region.


Photo 1: Serge Gugelmann / Unsplash

Photo 2: Warren Sammut / Unsplash