A new report examining the ways in which “greater food self-sufficiency can contribute to increased sustainability and resilience in the food systems of five Nordic island societies” finds that Iceland has a high degree of food self-sufficiency, thanks in large part to its “substantial fish and seafood production.” Even so, there remains work to be done to achieve even greater self-sufficiency, and food security remains the country’s “primary focus.”
The report, “Food self-sufficiency in five Nordic island societies,” was funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Working Group for Circular Economy. In addition to Iceland, it also investigated food self-sufficiency in Bornholm, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Åland. Researchers explored local strategies for food production and interviewed local experts, compared what challenges and opportunities for food self-sufficiency were perceived by people living in each society, and compiled a list of “good examples” from each place, while also noting that “local food production does not automatically equate to sustainable food production.”
Iceland, like Greenland and the Faroe Islands, is subject to the Arctic climate, shorter growing seasons, and “fewer areas with suitable soil conditions for agricultural production,” notes the report. But none of these factors prevent it from having the second highest degree of self-sufficiency (when measured in energy). This is, in part, because of the “abundance of marine resources” at its disposal, as well as “innovative production methods that use natural resources,” namely “geothermal heating for vegetable production.”
Researchers calculated food self-sufficiency in two ways, the main difference between the two methods being “whether exported food is considered.” Per the report, “The first calculation, degree of self-sufficiency, is defined as the proportion of food that is both produced and consumed in a country or region, and excludes exported food. The second calculation, food self-sufficiency ratio, considers the total food production, including food that may eventually be exported.”
Measured in energy (KJ), Iceland had the second highest degree of self-sufficiency (53%) after the Finnish islands of Åland (59%). Bornholm had the lowest ranking according to this measurement, or 6%, coming in the lowest in this category because such a large share of the food produced on the Danish island is exported. But all of the island societies ranked high “regarding the amount of food (kgs) and the caloric value” of food produced. In Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroes, this is, again, credited to “substantial fish and seafood production.”
When exports are taken into consideration, however, Iceland’s self-sufficiency ratio is the lowest of the five island societies, whether measured in energy or in kilos. The Faroe Islands had the highest self-sufficiency ratio in both measurements: 446% when measured in energy (KJ) and 549% when measured in kilos. While ranking the lowest, Iceland still had a 100% score when the self-sufficiency ratio was measured in energy, and 109% when measured in kilos.
The number of tourists in each country was considered alongside the local populations, although interestingly for Iceland, “tourism was found to have a limited effect on the level of food self-sufficiency” in each society.
Focus remains on food security
Reviewing the food and agricultural strategies employed in each of the island societies, researchers found that Iceland’s primary focus remains on food security; “food self-sufficiency is included but not heavily emphasised” in its policy and production.
All of the societies examined shared many of the same challenges (such as local competition against cheaper, imported foods), vulnerabilities (dependency on imported materials such as fodder and fertiliser to support food production), and barriers (“an available and suitably qualified workforce”). They also shared strengths, such as relatively small populations, “which means that collaboration and creating synergies across food system actors is an achievable reality.”
The report concludes with eleven policy recommendations “to guide future work on food self-sufficiencies and local food systems” in each of the five studied societies. These include: increased access to locally produced food for restaurants, public institutions, and local citizens; the addressing of of consumer behaviour and eating habits; exploring new business models geared toward the local market; the exploration of “possibilities for diversifying the food production,” not least with an eye to “transitioning a share of animal-based food production to plant-based options” and more.
You can read the full report and its findings, in English, here.