Agriculture in Greenland may seem like a contradiction in terms, but, as the climate has warmed, the farming has begun to take root in the country’s extreme south. Now, though, livestock farmers there warn the industry risks being nipped in the bud.
When Greenland’s government came to power last year, it did so with a mandate to stop establishment a uranium mine at its southern tip that critics said would spoil the country’s nascent agricultural sector. But now that a law change banning uranium mining appears appears to sealed the mine’s fate, farmers are wondering what happened to the financial support agricultural producers were promised during the election.
“No new jobs have been created, and agriculture is on its knees,” Sofus Frederiksen* said. Greenland’s sole commercial cattle farmer, Mr Frederiksen was one of the few farmers to support establishment of the mine, despite his property abutting the mountain where the open-pit mine was to be located (pictured above and below). He told Sermitisaq, a news outlet, that he supported the mine on the argument that he felt the taxes it generated could be used to increase farming subsidies in order to help the country reach its goal of making the country less dependent on imported food.
The number of farms in Greenland has declined in recent years, despite an official 2019 assessment that there is room for the sector to grow in southern Greenland — and the availability of subsidies that are intended to help defray the costs of things like fertiliser and fuel and whatever else farmers need, just about all of which must be imported. This is a particular problem for farmers raising livestock since they must also import the food they need to get animals to get them through the winter.
Modern agriculture in Greenland stretches back about 125 years. Today, there are 38 sheep farmers, sheep account for 99% of Greenland’s farmed meat. Grass production for fodder is also well established. Other crops, such as potatoes and turnips, are now grown commercially and sold in supermarkets. Cattle, though, accounts for less than a percent of slaughtered animals, and remains a niche. Agricultural experts say more information is needed before any conclusion about its potential to become a viable industry can be reached, but things like improved infrastructure to help cattle farmers get their products from the abattoir in southern Greenland to market is vital.
Sheep farmers say the rising prices are also to blame for the industry’s financial problems. “Sheep farmers are paying more than twice as much for fertiliser and feed than they did last year,” Mâse Kanutsen, who sits on the board of SPS, a farming lobby, told Sermitsiaq.
SPS last year recommended that subsidies for cattle farming be set at 1,500 kroner (€200) per head. The government, however, pays kr 600 per head, and an additional kr 250 per calf. That, according to Mr Kanutsen, has left some farmers unable to keep up with their increased expenses, which have typically doubled.
*For the record, Mr Frederiksen is the widower of Suka K Frederiksen. Prior to her death, Ms Frederiksen held the agriculture portfolio in the cabinet of a governing coalition led by Siumut, which currently sits in opposition and was in favour of the Kuannersuit uranium mine.
Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
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