Under initial plans, the sheep population in the region would be boosted by more than five times compared to current levels, to match the levels they were at the time of the Soviet Union. This would be accompanied by the construction of modern processing plants. However, the Russian authorities’ plans could be hindered by an acute shortage of drinking water in Crimea.
"In Soviet times, the number of sheep in Crimea reached 1.1 million head," said Nikolay Demchenko, a professor at the Russian Research Institute for Agriculture. "Now, there are only 200,000 head on the peninsula, so the population has decreased fivefold. But the industry is very promising for Crimea, as the steppe part of peninsula offers a good feed base."
The project would be based on the so-called tcigajskih sheep breed, which is well adapted to local conditions.
"Tcigajskih is a good breed to raise for meat production. The average weight of one animal at slaughter is about 38kg, while during the time of the Soviet Union, it was 26kg. Besides, the tcigajskih breed has been reared in Crimea for several decades, so it has adapted to local conditions," added Demchenko.
It is expected that the new project would be based mainly in the north of Crimea, where large pastures are located. In total, 425,000 hectares of land in the peninsula would be used for grazing. Total investment in the project, including the construction of processing plants, could reach RUB 8 billion (US$120m).
"The whole territory of Prisivashie [the northern part of Crimea] is very promising for the development of sheep farming," said Nikolay Koryazhkin, Minister of Economic Development in Crimea. "We estimate we can produce at least 17,000-20,000 tonnes (t) of high-quality lamb and 2,200t of wool."
He added that the Ministry of Economic Development was already offering potential investors projects for the development of sheep breeding on the basis of public-private partnership. At the same time, Crimea’s Research Institute of Agriculture has already prepared a pilot project for the breeding of tcigajskih sheep in the Krasnoperekopskiy area of Crimea, and intends to begin to implement this as soon as possible.
However, the authorities’ plans to boost the production of lamb may be hampered by an acute shortage of fresh water on the peninsula. In the middle of last year, Ukraine officially closed the North Crimean Canal, which previously supplied 85% of the region’s fresh water.
Despite all promises to find alternative sources of water supply, the Russian authorities have apparently so far failed to do so, which could bring ecological disaster to the peninsula as early as mid-2015, according to experts. Earlier this year, Sergey Donskoy, the Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of Russia, said that, without the restoration of a water supply via the North Crimean Canal, it would be impossible to develop agriculture in Crimea.