Appearing on the picture, from left to right: Yuri Fedorov, senior lecturer at the Institute of Finance and Economy (IFE) at the North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) of Yakutsk, Lidia Fedorova, head of Oktemtsy Business Association, Marina Alexeeva, Vice-director of Oktemsty Scientific Education Centre, Alexander Kugaeevskii, Director of IFE, Tor Gjertsen, Institute of Tourism and Northern Studies at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Alexander Bolchakov, Mayor of Oktemtsy municipality and Oksana Romanova, Vice-director of IFE, and former leader of the UArctic Thematic Network on Local and Regional Development in the North.

Strengthening research and development work in rural Yakutia through cooperation between the Academy of Agriculture and NEFU’s Institute of Finance and Economics

Since the UArctic Thematic Network on Local and Regional Development was established in 2006 it has contributed strongly to social and economic change and development in many rural communities and regions of Yakutia in northern Russia and other parts of the Circumpolar North. After more than 10 years of engagement in education, research and development work, the time had come for an evaluation. Oksana Romanova, vice-director of the Institute of Finance and Economy (IFE) at the North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU), had served the agreed 3-years period as Thematic Network leader and as coordinator of the Gargia-Oktemtsy conference for regional development in the North. Although change of network and conference leadership was the main reason for the meeting set in Yakutsk on October 14, other important network issues were the board too.

Ecology and sustainable business and community development

Through the Institute of Finance and Economics (IFE) at the North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) in Yakutsk, network members have been involved in close to thirty local and regional development workshops and business schools in rural Yakutia, 8 of them in Indigenous communities. In addition to the goal of increased self-reliance, our focus has been on ecological sustainable development. In the Allaikhovskiy Development Project on Protection and Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural Resources, initiated back in 2016, we are currently working on new ways to make the freshwater fisheries and reindeer herding in the region more sustainable, both socially, economically and ecologically. In late fall 2012; the UArctic Thematic Network organized a development workshop and business school in Saskylakh, an Evenki-Dolgan community in northern Yakutia, with the same focus. Read the article here.

Food security

Protection and sustainable use of renewable natural resources was also one of the issues raised at the meeting with the local network partners, but this time in connection to agriculture and farming. As the main theme of the Gargia-Oktemtsy conference 2016 was ‘Food Security’, the focus on this year’s conference in the end of November will be on how to increase productivity in agriculture and farming in the rural regions adjacent to Yakutsk. Only 15 % of the food needed in the capital is produced locally. The rest (85%) has to be imported from outside the republic. The issue of food security is critical and urgent. The Sakha State Academy of Agriculture was invited to the network meeting because of their knowledge and competence on ecological sustainable farming and agriculture. At a filial of the Academy in Oktemtsy, a rural municipality close to Yakutsk, they have already initiated various projects to increase production in agriculture and farming, including some ‘eco-projects’. According to Marianna Ilinichna Petrova, the director of the filial, this was done in close cooperation with local authorities and faculty members of IFE/NEFU.

Help to self-help

With the network’s ambition and goal of ‘help to self-help’, and the many successful R&D-projects realized in rural communities and regions of Yakutia by local agencies, the question was if they could continue on their own or still needed support and follow-up from external partners  of the international development network. 

Without the strong enthusiasm and sustained work effort of local resource persons such as Marina Alekseeva, vice-director of the Scientific Educational Centre of Oktemtsy and Lidia Fedorova, head of the local business association in Oktemtsy, the outcome of the R&D-project for social and economic development of rural Yakutia would not have been so successful. As ‘veterans’ of the first development workshop and business school organized in Oktemtsy in 2009 by the UArctic network, they took over the leadership function for the business school.  In the years that have passed since then they have trained close to 150 new entrepreneurs, not only from Oktemtsy, but also from neighbour municipalities and regions. On a voluntary basis, they have taken active part in many development workshops and business schools in remote rural communities all over the Republic, including indigenous communities such as Saskylakh and Iengra, an Evenki community in the south of Yakutia.

You can do it…

The persistence of a culture of dependency was often the greatest obstacle for social and economic development, according to Lidia Fedorova. The greatest achievement of the international development network, in her opinion, is a radical change of mind of the people that participated in the local and regional development workshops and business schools. “Instead of waiting for somebody else from outside to come and solve his or her problems, we learn to do it ourselves”, she said. A boost of self-confidence usually comes as positive side effect of success in establishing new businesses. Apart from her position as head of the local business association, Lidia is running a successful tourism business herself with seven employees. Through the local business association and business schools all around the Republic, she is sharing her experience with people that want to start their own businesses.  Yuri Fedorov, senior lecturer at IFE and teacher at many business schools organized by the UArctic network, added; “people are eagerly waiting for us when we come to new places. The good reputation of the project for local and regional development workshops and business schools travel ahead of us. Their personal expectations are usually met, also in the sense of creating new businesses in the local communities.”

The importance of international R&D-cooperation

In spite of increased self-reliance among the network’s local partners, all the participants in the meeting in Yakutsk expressed a need for continuation, even strengthening of the lead and coordinating role and function, of the UArctic Thematic Network. The input they got from network partners abroad was, in their opinion, vital for the continuation of the R&D-project for social and economic change and development in rural Yakutia. Because of the tense political situation between Russia and the West today, it is more important now than before to keep the door open for international contact and cooperation. The experience of 10 years of successful R&D-cooperation has shown that the UArctic Thematic Network on Local and Regional Development in the North has been and still is a useful tool for that.

Transfer of network leadership

Alexander Kugaevskii, who took over as director of IFE in 2013, years after R&D-cooperation between Finnmark University College and Sakha State University was established in 2007,  has seen many positive effects of cooperation established with universities in Canada, Finland and Norway through the UArctic network, not only in research and development, but also in education. “I want to thank Oksana for the good job she has done as leader of the network, in connection with the organization of the Gargia-Oktemtsy conference, as well as in developing new course and study programs at the institute, most important, an applied master program in Public Administration”. She was able to pull through in spite of drastic cutbacks in funding, both for the international network and the Gargia-Oktemtsy conference.   

Before the meeting was adjourned, Oksana handed over the leadership of the UArctic Thematic Network to Tor Gjertsen and UiT The Arctic University of Norway. Tor will function as interim leader of the Thematic Network for a shorter period, until the TN decides on a new leader from a North-American higher education and research institution. When the Thematic Network was founded at the UArctic Council Meeting in Bodø in 2006, the intention was that the leadership should alternate between the Nordic countries, Russia and North America every three years. However, the international Gargia conference for regional development in the North will stay put in Oktemtsy, the rural municipality outside of Yakutsk where it was transferred in 2014. Since then the Gargia-Oktemtsy conference has become the leading conference in rural research and development in Yakutia. In the future IFE/NEFU will share the responsibility of organizing the conference with the local branch of the Sakha Academy of Agriculture and the Municipality of Oktemtsy.

The Gargia-Oktemtsy Conference 2017, to be held in the end of November, will be dedicated to Mikhail Nicolaev, the first President of the Republic of Yakutia, democratically elected 25 years ago. He was born in Oktemtsy village in 1937, 80 years ago.


Tor Gjertsen

Alta, October 24, 2017