New Report Examines Food Self-Sufficiency in Five Nordic Island Societies

Iceland fishing quota reform

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.”

Screenshot of table in “Food self-sufficiency in five Nordic Island Societies,” Nordic Council of Ministers, August 2022

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.

Ministry of Finance Opposed Hiring of Icelander for Nordic Editorship

An employee of Iceland’s Ministry of Finance opposed the appointment of Þorvaldur Gylfason, Professor of Economics at the University of Iceland, as editor of the Nordic Economic Policy Review, alleging he was too politically active for the post. Kjarninn reports that Þorvaldur believed he had been hired for the position, only for the offer to be withdrawn following a discussion between Ministries of Finance within the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Emails Suggested Þorvaldur Had Been Hired

Launched in 2009 by the Nordic Ministers of Finance, the Nordic Economic Policy Review is an annual periodical. In early November last year, Þorvaldur received an email from the Nordic Council of Ministers implying he had been hired for the position. “We very much look forward to having you and your expertise with us on the coming editions of the NEPR. And Kjell Nilsson (director at Nordreigo) will help you out with any further practical information for the editorship,” an email stated. In a letter to Þorvaldur, Iceland’s Ministry of Finance claimed he was never officially hired for the position, rather was one of several candidates being considered.

An email exchange later that month between a staff member of Iceland’s Ministry of Finance with a Finnish colleague shows the staff member stated “Iceland is not able to suggest or support Gylfason as editor […] but would rather like to propose an Icelander for the job at a later time than to suggest Gylfason now.” The Finnish colleague replied stating they were “really surprised” by the position Iceland’s Ministry of Finance was taking, adding that public information suggested Þorvaldur “would be a very good candidate.”

Ministry Based Opinion on Wikipedia Article

In their response, the Finance Ministry staff member stated that Þorvaldur was “politically active. He has been, and to the best of our knowledge still is, chairman of the Iceland Democratic Party. We don’t find it appropriate that such a politically active person, particularly someone who chairs a political party, is editor of NEPR.”

Þorvaldur did serve as chairman of the party when it was formed in 2013. It did not win a seat in parliament and he left the position later that same year and has not been active in politics since. Iceland’s Ministry of Finance has since apologised for the mistake, stating in a letter to Kjarninn that the information was based on Þorvaldur’s Wikipedia page, which had been out of date. Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson has stated that he had not been informed about Þorvaldur’s candidacy for the position but “in this case it reflects my desire to neither nominate nor approve Þorvaldur Gylfason for this position. In fact I would have never conceived of the possibility and no one mentioned it to me.”

Þorvaldur has claimed that he still has the right to the editorship as the job offer was never officially revoked in writing. His lawyer has contacted the Nordic Council of Ministers stating Þorvaldur reserves all rights to claim damages from the Council.

Pence Visit Three Times as Expensive as Merkel and Nordic Leaders

US Vice President Mike Pence.

The Metropolitan Police’s expense over US Vice President Mike Pence’s seven-hour visit to Iceland last week was triple the amount spent during German Chancellor Angela Merkel and all the Nordic Prime Ministers’ two-day visit in August, according to the Police’s answer to RÚV’s inquiry.

Extensive preparations were made during Pece’s official visit, with street closures and a multitude of police officers gathered at Höfði House, where Pence met with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, and Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson. Snipers were also visible atop surrounding buildings.

The Metropolitan Police expense ran just over 14 million ISK (EUR 102,456 – USD113,783). This is not including the cost of police officers from South- and North Iceland, as well as travel and accommodation costs.

A few days earlier, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Iceland along with the prime ministers of all the Nordic countries, the Lawman of the Faroe Islands, the Premier of Greenland, and the Governor of the Åland Islands. They spent two days in the country. Merkel attracted attention when she took a stroll through the city centre and went shopping. According to the Metropolitan Police, their expenses over the Nordic and German leaders amounted to 5.5 million ISK (EUR 39,965 – USD 44,383) or just over one-third of the Pence visit.