Gaiadrøv: The Sheep’s Turn to Shine

06 November 2023

The same week that Mutton Stew Day was celebrated and the Norwegian people gathered around dining tables across the country to eat first-class Norwegian lamb, the starting gun went off for a unique collaboration aimed at highlighting the sheep’s important role in the development of Northern Norway.

The collaboration that unites museums, the media production industry, the agricultural sector, and large R&D environments has been named GaiaDrøv. GaiaDrøv is a communication concept and a traveling exhibition about the significance of sheep in arctic regions, with a focus on Vesterålen and Northern Norway. The GaiaDrøv project is a new initiative under the GAIA Vesterålen program. The primary target group is children and young people aged 6-18 years. We aim to generate interest in agriculture, as well as contribute to increased recruitment and create an understanding among the population about the use of outlying pastures.

Ett lam.
Doing the job our grandparents did

GaiaDrøv aims to do the job that the grandparents of the 70s and 80s generations did. It’s no longer the case that most people in grassland areas have a grandmother and grandfather who run a farm. A lot of fundamental understanding of the things the farmer does and relies on is disappearing more and more in the population as the number of active farms diminishes.

We are in the midst of the greatest and most threatening global societal challenge in history: the climate and nature crisis, both driven by human economic activity. The climate and environmental crisis have major consequences for agriculture and threaten food security. In Norway, the degree of self-sufficiency is decreasing. We depend on imports and thus become very vulnerable to the effects of climate change on global food systems. Through a joint mobilization, we can manage to save the world from catastrophe, but this requires each one of us to actively contribute for humanity and the planet. For even though the climate and sustainability goals are global, we must start locally; with ourselves and our connection to nature.

We live in a time when many people have become detached from nature, and the close historical connection between food production and humans has largely been severed. We don’t have to look far back to see a different scenario: Children born up until the 1980s in Vesterålen, as well as in similar grassland areas elsewhere in Northern Norway, usually had grandparents or other close family who ran a farm. The children took part in the farm’s chores and gained insight into the daily life on the farm. They obtained a practical understanding of the connections between how the farm operation was organized in interaction with nature and local resources.

Most children growing up today no longer have this opportunity. As a result, many children and young people today lack the basic understanding of both food production and the invaluable interplay and dependence of agriculture on nature. GaiaDrøv aims to help restore this connection. Using the sheep as a starting point, children will be given an understanding of both the big picture and the local contexts in agriculture, such as how a ruminant functions and how ruminants convert grass in the outfields into food for humans.

The climate crisis and the revitalization of agriculture

The green transition efforts that are now underway and will accelerate in the coming years represent a potential revitalization of Norwegian agriculture. Initiatives that create an understanding of pasture-based productions will further increase recruitment to the industry. It will also lead to a greater understanding of the importance of sustainable use of the outlying pastures in the region, for example: Why is it important that I close the gate behind me when I go out into the field?

GaiaDrøv will highlight the great values that the outlying pastures represent. Calculations made by the Arctic Competence Center for Sheep show that sheep and lambs grazing in Vesterålen and Lødingen absorb an energy level equivalent to 3,800 tons of concentrated feed per year from grass and herbs growing in the outlying fields. This corresponds to about 19 million Norwegian kroner per year in local resource utilization. In addition, there’s the feed uptake by cattle, reindeer, and goats. In many areas in Vesterålen, there are pastures that are no longer utilized due to a significant decline in the industry. These are fodder values that no animals other than ruminants can utilize. The mountains cannot be cultivated with vegetables either. In the pasture, carbon is bound, and vegetation is kept down so that the albedo effect is strengthened.

Through GaiaDrøv, we aim to create a new understanding of the important contribution of grazing animals to the earth’s climate. This vital work is being done, and which we perhaps largely take for granted today. Now we must together create a passion for nature and agriculture among today’s children and young people. We have now started the work, and in June 2024, GaiaDrøv will open to the public. We are looking forward to it!

On behalf of the partners in GaiaDrøv,

John-Erik Bjørlo, Deputy Leader of Sortland and Øksnes Farmers’ Union 

Tor-Erling Nilsen, Arctic Competence Centre for Sheep 

Ane Høyem, Project Manager GaiaVesterålen  

Brynjar Pettersen, Department Director at Museum Nord 

Martin Trovaag, General Manager at Deadline Media

Gaiavesterålen

Gaia Vesterålen is a research and technology initiative that aims to create more environmentally friendly and sustainable local communities

GaiaTalent

GAIA Talent is a measure against exclusion among young people. Exclusion is one of the greatest challenges in society – nationally and regionally.

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