When Iceland became a sovereign state in 1918, after more than six centuries under colonial rule, it was among the poorest countries in Europe. It was also faced with severe land degradation problems caused by over-exploitation through wood cutting and overgrazing under harsh natural conditions. To halt the destructive forces, unique legislation was passed in 1907 aimed at halting soil erosion and restoring lost and degraded woodlands. Iceland’s 100 years of such nationally concerted effort is one of the longest standing in the world. The numerous success stories about stabilising desertified land and making it productive serve as examples to demonstrate how current international objectives can also be achieved. Such actions are important in carbon sequestration into soils and vegetation, restoring biological diversity and in providing opportunities for productive land use.
Although all problems have not been solved, wide ranging experience and knowledge has been gained in Iceland through the last century on how to combat land degradation and desertification and on restoration and sustainable land use. At the same time Icelandic society has developed from being one of the poorest in Europe to a modern society with competent research and university sectors.
Having seen the adverse consequences of desertification, the Icelandic nation and its political and academic leaders are highly committed to fighting land degradation and restoring degraded ecosystems. The intellectuals are conscious of the need to share Iceland’s cold desert experience with developing countries despite often different climatic conditions. To do this, the focus is on understanding ecosystem functioning and the principles of land degradation, restoration and management.
The need for capacity building within this field of expertise is great in the developing countries where land degradation and desertification are directly threatening food security and well being. The knowledge and experience gained in Iceland is of much relevance to these countries, and the programme is a venue for making that knowledge available.