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Development of the Velvet Antler Industry in Altai Krai

The Russian velvet antler industry was formed as a sub-industry of livestock breeding in the second half of the 19th century. This sub-industry covers various sectors of agriculture, the health resort business, food and processing industries, pharmaceuticals and medicine, and has the potential to become a leader in the use of recreation and health technologies not only within the Russian Federation, but also throughout the Customs Union. Currently, the Russian Federation is home to 2.2% of the global livestock of velvet antler deer.

The velvet antler industry began developing in Altai Krai in the 1990s. Unlimited demand for velvet antlers and dietary meat and the high profitability of the sub-industry gave it a real boost. At that time, the region had 38 red deer and deer farms. Today, Altai Krai and the Republic of Altai are home to the country’s main stock of velvet antler deer (more than 90%). Velvet antler deer is of great importance for the territory, as it contributes to the development of hard-to-reach highland areas and its products create a brand.

The velvet antler industry in Altai Krai involves breeding two animal species: red deer and spotted deer. There are currently 24 agricultural producers of all forms of ownership in the region that are engaged in the velvet antler industry. The total number of red deer and spotted deer is more than 24,000. They are in six municipal districts of Altai Krai; 83% of all farms are located in three of these districts (Altaisky District – 47%, Charyshsky District – 23% and Soloneshensky District – 13%). These are also the leading districts for the production of velvet antlers, which represent the main product type of the velvet antler industry. The region produces ten to twelve tonnes of preserved velvet antlers every year. In 2017, farms produced ten tonnes of preserved and three tonnes of frozen velvet antlers.

The National Research Institute of the Velvet Antler Industry was established to promote the development of the velvet antler industry in the region. This is the only such institution in the country and is currently incorporated in the Federal Altai Research Centre for Agrobiotechnologies Federal State Budgetary Scientific Institution. Its key research areas include the development of a scientific basis for livestock breeding in the velvet antler industry and feeding animals, as well as diagnostics and prevention of infectious and parasitic diseases of red deer, appropriate control measures, improvement of existing processing methods used for velvet antler products and development of new ones. The interest shown in by-products is continually increasing: meat, blood, tendons, tails, embryos, etc. According to research, these organs and tissues of red deer and spotted deer are associated with high bioactivity and may be used for health and treatment purposes.

Government support for the development of the velvet antler industry has made it possible to hold regular research-to-practice conferences and congresses. For the fourth year running, the Agro-Standart breeding exhibition centre in the village of Altaiskoye in Altaisky District will hold the Altai Red Deer Festival. This event is aimed at improving the image of the sub-industry, promoting advanced technologies and exchanging experience between reindeer herders. In August 2018, on the initiative of the Governor of Altai Krai, Alexander Karlin, the region will host a global event, the 7th World Reindeer Herders Congress. Our region will welcome guests from China, New Zealand, South Korea, Australia and several other countries interested in the development of the velvet antler industry. The decision to hold the next congress was taken by the International Coordination Council of Reindeer Herders in 2014.

Despite the upward trend that continues to this day, there are a number of issues in the current market situation that create obstacles in the further development of the industry. The main current constraint is the fact that the velvet antler industry is primarily represented on the global market by raw materials. Most preserved velvet antlers (70%) are exported to South Korea, where they are processed.

Altai Krai also acts mainly as a supplier of raw materials for the production of velvet antler products, which has an extremely negative impact on the competitive position of the region. Today, however, enterprises in Altai Krai produce a wide range of products that can be used for health and treatment purposes in Russia. These include medicines, dietary supplements and cosmeceuticals. Most of these products are manufactured by members of the Altai Biopharmaceutical Cluster Non-Commercial Partnership, for whom processing raw materials from deer velvet antler is one of the most promising high-priority activities. Enterprises in the region currently produce more than 360 different products using raw velvet antler materials, including 99 types of bioactive supplements, one special-purpose food product for athletes, two special-purpose food products for dietary and protective nutrition, three medicinal products and one medical technology (velvet antler baths). A distinctive feature of Altai products using raw materials from deer velvet antler is that they can be used both at health resorts facilities and at home.