Description of Workshop

Desertification in Iceland


Photos from Workshop

Workshop report

International Workshop

ICELAND, September 16-19, 1997.

Workshop report

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:

Highlights of issues discussed

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.

The context

  1. Rangelands are of key importance in the context of desertification globally both in terms of extent and socio-economic impact.
  2. 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 etc.
  3. 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 unaffected countries
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The context provided by the Icelandic rangelands which have undergone catastrophic desertification helped to underline the sense of urgency.

The science

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 at.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 system, however.
  8. 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 continued.
  9. There is a need for issue-driven research programs combining several scientific disciplines aimed and finding solutions applicable to desertification control.

Implications for the Convention to Combat Desertification

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The social science disciplines need to promote and research the participatory approaches advocated by the Convention. People’s participation and NGO involvement are of key importance.
  4. Adoption of appropriate technology needs to be enhanced at the local level through technology transfer.
  5. 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 arrangements.
  6. There is a need for early warning network based on co-ordinated databases.

Further information:

Olafur Arnalds
Department of Environmental Research
Agricultural Research Institute
Keldnaholt, IS-112 Reykjavik, ICELAND,, Fax: +354-577-1020