Photos from Workshop
ICELAND, September 16-19, 1997.
Over 80 experts from 30 countries in all continents
gathered to discuss desertification of rangelands at a
workshop in Iceland in late September. The workshop was
hosted by the Icelandic government and co-sponsored by
the European Union. The participants represented diverse
disciplines such as range ecology, agronomy, soil
science, geography, remote sensing, policymaking and law.
The secretariat of the CCD was also represented and INCD
chair Bo Kjellen addressed the opening session.
The location of this workshop has surprised many.
After an excursion through Iceland including the barren
deserts the participants agreed that the setting was
highly relevant to the topic of the workshop. The case
histories of rangeland desertification in climatically
diverse regions of the globe presented at the workshop
revealed striking similarities, Iceland, with its severe
desertification, being no exception.
Further information: http://www.rala.is/desert
Highlights of issues
Below are highlights of the discussion at a summing-up
session prepared by an ad hoc group. The
scientific papers will be published by Kluwer Academic
Publishers. Please note that the meeting was not an
intergovernmental meeting and the participants attended
in their personal capacity.
- Rangelands are of key importance in the context
of desertification globally both in terms of
extent and socio-economic impact.
- Demographic pressures on rangelands will continue
to increase. Desertification is not just an
African problem; it is a global issue.
Particularly vulnerable groups have to be
identified and catered to. The demands put on
rangelands by society are not limited to food and
fiber, rangeland management needs to meet
multiple demands simultaneously including outdoor
recreation, hunting, water supply, conservation
- There is a need to act in spite of uncertainty.
The CCD needs to be founded on sound science,
however. Leadership and deeper political
commitment is needed from affected as well as
- Interaction between the scientific community and
the decision-makers needs to be strengthened.
Stakeholders need to play an integral part in the
planning, implementation and evaluation of
desertification control actions. A sense of
ownership in the solution should be strengthened.
Empowerment of stakeholders and capacity building
at all levels needs special attention.
- Guiding principles for desertification control
need to be elaborated taking notice of
socioeconomic consideration, ethical issues,
ecosystem dynamics and external driving forces.
National strategies and programs are critical.
- The context provided by the Icelandic rangelands
which have undergone catastrophic desertification
helped to underline the sense of urgency.
- Specific case histories demonstrated that
rangeland systems in climatically diverse regions
have more in common than what separates them. The
desertification in Iceland is an excellent
example of desertification and can provide
insights applicable to other parts of the world.
- The degradation of rangelands needs to be
evaluated based on their ecological properties,
and methods designed for croplands are generally
not applicable. The understanding the ecosystem
function is vital, for assessment, management
objectives and counter measures. Management of
rangelands needs to be based on understanding of
ecosystem (plant, soil, and animal) function and
the role external driving forces have in
dictating ecosystem behavior.
- Some ecosystem processes are event-driven and the
ecosystem response to extreme events can be more
important than the mean conditions in determining
the long-term trend. Their response to stress is
commonly non-linear due to positive feedback
loops. There may exist ecological thresholds,
beyond which degradation may accelerate and
become irreversible. These thresholds have not
been clearly identified, however.
- There was a general consensus that the
desertification concept needs to be re-evaluated
as knowledge about the processes and mechanisms
increases worldwide. Functional analysis of
rangeland ecosystems has developed to the point
that we can move from the mere description of
superficial phenomena to a working understanding
of rangeland function. This understanding can be
distilled into functionally relevant indicators.
These indicators can be used for early warning
purposes. There are still important gaps in our
understanding of rangeland function, however.
- Indicators functionally relevant at one scale can
lose their meaning when upscaled to larger areas.
When rangeland systems are analyzed at the
landscape level, individual patches are found to
be spatially interconnected with significant
fluxes of matter from one landscape unit to the
next. Processes need to be studied at the spatial
and temporal scales management decisions are made
- Rangelands are degraded when the functional
integrity of the system is damaged thus
leading to a reduced productive capacity and loss
of resiliency. Rangeland degradation represents a
continuum of system states with desertification
as the end point. Productive capacity of
rangelands will fluctuate due to external driving
forces. These fluctuations need to be separated
from long-term trends.
- The best management of rangelands can only be
devised in the context of the management
objectives of the stakeholders. The needs of the
stakeholders can only be met within the limits
posed by the supply capacity of the soil-plant
- Current level of understanding of rangeland
function has been gained from long-term studies
using broad based ecological approach (including
the soil system). These studies need to be
- There is a need for issue-driven research
programs combining several scientific disciplines
aimed and finding solutions applicable to
Implications for the Convention to Combat
- The workshop participants welcome strengthened
co-operation among climatically different regions
under the Convention. They also agreed that the
evolution of the Convention could be enhanced
through broad-based scientific input. The
interaction across the science-policy interface
needs to be enhanced.
- The scientific community needs to recognize the
importance of the development of indicators
(impact indicators and implementation indicators)
and benchmarks for these indicators under the
CCD/Committee on Science and Technology.
- The social science disciplines need to promote
and research the participatory approaches
advocated by the Convention. Peoples
participation and NGO involvement are of key
- Adoption of appropriate technology needs to be
enhanced at the local level through technology
- The science input to the benefit of rangelands
and the people depending on rangelands for their
livelihood can be significantly enhanced through
efficient networking across and within climatic
regions, between scientific disciplines and
across sectors of activity relevant for combating
desertification. The CCD has a role to play in
networking and in mobilizing partnership
- There is a need for early warning network based
on co-ordinated databases.
Department of Environmental Research
Agricultural Research Institute
Keldnaholt, IS-112 Reykjavik, ICELAND
firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.rala.is/rade, Fax: +354-577-1020