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Policy: Reykjavík CRFS

Food production and supply

According to Matís Food Production map, most types of food are produced in the capital area, yet with over 60% of the population concentrated here, it is inevitable that its food system depends on food and feed brought in from other parts of Iceland and from abroad. Around half of daily calorific intake of Icelanders comes from imported food. Food is first imported to the capital area and then distributed to the rest of the country. It has been estimated that if food production became entirely local without changing the current mix of crops grown, there would be a 50% reduction in diversity (from 50 to 25 items in eight out of ten food categories).

According to Bailes and Jóhannsson, food production is an important part of the Icelandic economy: in 2010, food and beverage production accounted for 45.5% of the total value of manufactured products sold in Iceland, the fishing industry being by far the largest sector, creating 71.2% of the total value produced by the food industry and constituting 36% of exports by value, while other agricultural exports were around 3.6% in 2010. According to Orkustofnun (2017), there were 22890 sq. m. of greenhouses in the Greater Reykjavík area in 2017, which made up around 11,9% of all greenhouses in Iceland.

Map of primary food producers in Iceland. Source: Matís

In terms of local food production within the ten categories, close to 100% of current cereals, oils, and fruit supply in Iceland is provided by imports. Despite being a major fish producer (the country produced 1 426 000 tonnes of fish, but exported 98.9%), Iceland relied on imports for 84% of its domestic food consumption in 2015. The proportion of imported sugars is 62% (with the remaining 38% largely consisting of processed foods such as sweet drinks made from imported sugar but mixed with water in Iceland and therefore counted as local). A large share of vegetables (61%), beans and nuts (50%), and beverages (39%) is also imported. The country is self-reliant for meat and 99% of dairy products are produced locally. In total, 50% of current food need in Iceland (calculated as kcal/capita/day) comes from imported foods.

It is estimated that 120 000 ha are currently used for agriculture in Iceland, 95% of which is used as pasture for grazing animals and producing hay. There is reportedly enough good-quality land available to increase agricultural land to 200 000 hectares. Based on estimates by Snæbjörnsson et al. (2010), Halldórsdóttir and Nicholas (2016) calculated that this 200 000 ha of available land would include 137 000 ha for pasture used for grazing and growing grass to produce hay for animals, 28 000 ha for vegetables and oil crops, 21 500 ha for growing cereals like wheat (for human consumption), 5500 ha for cereals used for feed production and 8000 ha for growing other crops fed directly to animals. The smallest municipality in the capital area, Kjósarhreppur, has expressed a desire to be a sustainable agriculture district, producing a lot of its food locally. Hafnarfjörður in its sustainability policy expresses ambition to reduce food waste and promote healthy nutrition and local food by developing urban gardening


Food processing and manufacturing

Imported and locally produced food in Iceland.
Source: Halldórsdóttir and Nicholas, 2016

According to Reykjavík Climate Action Plan 2021-2025 (see Table 2 for details), food product manufacturing was responsible for 8,043 tCO2EQ, or 1%, of all Reykjavík GHG emissions and additional 3,510 tCO2EQ (around 1% - gross approximation in the report) from the agriculture sector. Food processing in Iceland has become highly modernised due to innovations in fish and meat processing by companies such as Marel.

According to Reykjavík Municipality’s Directorate of Health, in September 2021, the number of companies with a valid licence to operate a food-related business issued by food inspection was 1940 in total. 136 permits were issued for canteens, 105 for food production, 200 for wholesale, 294 for retail, and 19 were registered as food transportation/logistics centres. In the municipalities of Hafnarfjörður and Kópavogur there were around 600 registered food producing, handling and distributing companies at the end of 2021. No numbers were found for the other municipalities. 
Food wholesale and distribution

Most of food to Reykjavík area that is not grown there arrives by shipping or cargo planes, and domestic production from other parts of Iceland arrives by land. The imported food then goes to wholesale, while the domestic producers either provide to wholesalers or directly to catering and retail companies. A few big companies dominate food wholesale and distribution in Iceland, including Eimskip, Samskip, Garri, Bananar, Mata, etc

Food marketing, catering and retail

There are a few main food retailers in Reykjavík, including Bónus, Krónan, Nettó, Hagkaup and a few smaller retailers and local shops. The food marketing has increased in the recent decades but is still rather limited compared to other capital cities of countries with similar level of economic development. According to Icelandic Competition Authority (2010), 62% of the food market in Reykjavík was controlled by Hagar corporation in 2020, with its most successful outlet being Bónus

The number of stores selling food per inhabitant in Reykjavík city is relatively low. In 2018, 55,000 or around 45% of the city’s inhabitants lived 400 metres or further from the nearest grocery store. This is the result of the increased number of supermarkets in the city in 1980s (Reykjavík Food Policy, 2018). The map below shows the locations of grocery stores in the Capital Area

Jónsson (2010) in Santanicchia (2012) highlights a sharp decline in the number of grocery stores by 11% from 1988 to 2008 despite the population increase of 24%. There is also a shift in their location from the central area to the periphery and an increase in size. In 2010, 54% of the population resided at a walking distance of 300 metres (radial) to a grocery store. This percentage was 84% in 1988 and 74% in 1998. This shows that people’s access to food relies increasingly more on private transportation.

The food value chain. Source: Umhverfisstofnun

Food consumption

According to the Icelandic Nutrition Survey 2021, Icelanders ate around 213 g of fruits and vegetables per day, as opposed to the recommended 500 g per day, which only around 2% of participants reached. Only around a quarter of participants reached the recommended norm 70 g consumption of whole grains, and the same percentage ate vegetarian main dish once per week or more. Fish consumption remains the same since the last survey in 2010-2011, averagely 315 g per week, being lowest among the young (18–39 years) and particularly low among young women, as only 1% of participants in this group follow the recommendations of 2-3 fish meals (375 g) per week. Consumption of red meat reduced by 10% (60 g) per week on average since the last survey, but around 60% of the participants exceed the maximum recommended amount of 500 g red meat consumption per week. Milk consumption has decreased since the last survey, but cheese consumption has increased. 

Total energy consumed by an average Icelander is on average of 2044 kilocalories per day, with around 16% of it coming from sugary foods and drinks. The share of energy from added sugar has decreased from 9% to 7% on average but remains higher in the youngest age group where one third gets more than 10% of their energy from added sugar (while recommendation is less than 10%). Protein consumption is at around 18%, which is well within the recommended 10-20% of total energy consumed. Consumption of fibre, on the hand, decreased by around 6% in the last decade, and is now 16 g (instead recommended 25 g). The proportion of fat in total energy consumption has increased from 36% to 41%, while proportion of carbohydrates has decreased from 42% to 37%, even though nutritional recommendation is that 45-60% of total energy from carbohydrates.

Grocery stores in the capital area of Reykjavík. Source: http://thjonustukort.is

Food and organic waste

According to the report by the Iceland Environment Agency (2020, link in Table 2) on food waste statistics for Iceland, average household food waste person/year in Iceland was 90.3 kg in 2019, with an additional 112.6 kg per person per year from industries. According to the report, these measures show a significant reduction from previous years, but these numbers are not always reliable due to lack of data and occasional measuring errors. The Iceland’s Policy Against Food Waste (2021, link in Table 2) indicates that there is no significant difference in food waste in the Greater Reykjavík area and in the countryside – food waste about 20-25 kg per person per year in the whole country, which amounts to around one third of food being wasted nation-wide

Policies and plans influencing the CRFS

In the Reykjavík Climate Action Plan 2021-2025, food is presented as a subset of the policy target of Circular Thinking in the Target 7: Green food policy: The City’s food policy to be implemented and cooperation to be organised involving green agriculture in Kjalarnes. Reducing food waste and updating the city’s food policy is also mentioned as issues to be discussed with external stakeholders, as well as intentions by the policy to put more emphasis on encouraging citizens to shift to more sustainable diets with fewer environmental effects that are also said in the policy to be more human-friendly.
Among the concrete actions where food is specifically mentioned are: 

  • experimental project for vegetable markets in city’s districts
  • street-food and vegetables stalls (2023)
  • emissions from food production to be calculated in carbon footprint for the City of Reykjavík (done in 2021)
  • statistics for CO2 equivalent for food and especially animal products that are consumed by the citizens (done in 2021 as a part of carbon footprint calculations)
  • establishment of food footprint in the canteens of the administration buildings.

The Icelandic Food Policy up to 2030 does not mention cities specifically but puts emphasis on increasing local food production and value along the value chain, reducing food waste and carbon footprint, which includes cities. According to the Iceland’s Policy Against Food Waste (2021), the government is determined to reduce this number significantly: by 30% in 2030 and by 50% in 2050 compared to 2021. Actions proposed in the document include but are not limited to increased cooperation between business community and the government against food waste; regular measurements of food waste along the value chain; researching causes of household food waste; dissemination of information on food waste and related projects; education on food waste and circular economy in the schooling system; providing citizens with the tools to reduce food waste; issuing guidelines on proper arrangements and incentives for food donations; increasing the number of innovation, research and development projects that help to reduce food waste; introducing economic incentives for reducing food waste, e.g. pay-as-you-dispose fee for organic waste that will come into effect in 2023; improved regulations and incentives on reusing organic waste, raising awareness about food waste among primary food producers, etc.

In the Reykjavík Food Policy 2018, food is discussed in relation to many areas of the City’s life: food procurement for city’s employees and users of services, such as children in school and kindergartens; city space planning, e.g., regarding where agricultural and gardening activities are allowed to take place within the capital area, health promotion policy, of which an important part is improved sustainable and healthy nutrition of the inhabitants. Visitors to the city also make up a significant part of food consumers, and it is a stated priority of the policy that they should be able to enjoy the local food culture, markets, and restaurants. In 2018, Reykjavík City provided lunch to around 23,000 people on weekdays, mostly to kindergarten and school children, users of social services, and the city’s employees. In 2013, the city started centralised food provision services, together with recommendations regarding nutrition, food safety, environmental impacts, sample menus, etc.

The Reykjavík Food Policy acknowledges that food policies touch upon multiple Sustainable Development Goals that should be achieved simultaneously, e.g., ensuring food security and sustainable and resilient agricultural practices, while increasing food production without depleting ecosystems (SDG 2.3) and dramatically decreasing and eventually eradicating food waste (SDG 12.3). It is also recognized in the policy that decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the agriculture sector (SDG 13), preserving and enhancing the life below water (SDG 14) and on land (SDG 15) also relate closely to city-regional food systems.

The Reykjavík food policy is intertwined with other city’s activities in various departments, e.g., creative city initiatives such as food workshops in collaboration with Matís, procurement, services to citizens, tourism, culture as well as city planning strategies.
A new Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries (Matvælaráðuneytið) was established in 2022, with a purpose to work towards a unified food policy in the country, emphasising cooperation between sectors while striving towards this purpose. The main directions of the new Icelandic food policy are to increase the food security and safety, use available natural resources sustainably by increasing efficiency and reducing waste, reducing carbon footprint, building all the while on the existing knowledge and innovation the area of food production, and ensuring that the policy is equitable and inclusive. However, in September 2022, the full policy is not yet ready, and in the related policy document on emphasis and procedures in food policy, cities are not mentioned.
The agricultural policy named Ræktum Ísland! released in 2021, highlights ten main policy focus areas: land use, land use planning and classification, food security, biodiversity, environmental protection, global marketing, consumers, the fourth industrial revolution, education, research, development, and financial relations between the state and farmers. In addition, 22 steps are presented which, in the opinion of the project board, are necessary to take in line with the action plan.

In September 2021, the Ministry of Environment organised a working group comprised of government officials, NGO representatives and young activists to develop a 24-point working plan against food waste in Iceland, with the main goal to reduce the food waste along the whole value chain by 30% in 2025 and by 50% in 2050. In June 2020, the Minister of Environment released a policy communication entitled “Towards circular economy”, indicating that circularity is a policy priority in Iceland, which also includes urban food policy

Governance of the food system

The governance of the food system in Reykjavík is divided between the Icelandic State, Reykjavík City and the stakeholders involved in food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal (see the institutional stakeholder analysis of the food system in Reykjavík greater capital area earlier in the text in the CRFS description). Food policy has gained increasingly more attention in the recent years as a response to disruptions of global food supply due to crises such as war and pandemics, as well as increasing environmental burdens of unsustainable food production and waste


Food system's resilience

Food system resilience refers to indicators on how resilient Reykjavík CRFS is to shocks, such as extreme climate events, transport disruptions, wars, disruptions in food supply chains, and other disturbances. Four major factors impacting food system resilience that have been highlighted in the literature are: ensuring agency of stakeholders, creating buffers for disruptions, stimulating right amount of connectivity between food systems, and enhancing diversity throughout them. In terms of agency, most of stakeholders in the food system in the Reykjavík Capital Area have agency, but it is not always utilised to its full potential. There seems to be a lack of knowledge and information about sustainable food systems, where food comes from, what its health and environmental impacts are, etc. The role of consumers/citizens is not clear or highlighted, and there is a lack of initiative and agency from civic society, with a notable exception of the movement against food waste. 

In terms of buffers, the readiness to shocks has increased substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but with around 50% of food in Iceland being imported, contingency plans still need to be improved to be able to deal with possible food supply chain disruptions and extreme events, such as big volcanic eruptions. In terms of connectivity, there is a room for improvement both within the Reykjavík CRFS and with external (international) systems. For example, there should be a better connection between the producers, retailers, and consumers regarding food waste, to create schemes how to avoid or utilise it. Connectivity to (and dependence on) food systems outside Iceland helps to maintain supply of food, but also makes the system vulnerable to disruptions in those systems. Diversity is the area with a lot of potential as there are many ways for a CRFS to diversify locally– from increasing local and urban food production, to supporting small retailers, farmers, and citizen groups to develop many independent innovative solutions enhancing food system diversity. 

Perhaps the most important policy document in Iceland touching upon resilience of Iceland to climate change is the forthcoming policy on adaptation to climate change, which is still in a development stage but will impact food systems


Strengths and vulnerabilities

The Reykjavík Capital Area food system is rather small and contained, there is abundant clean and cheap energy, democratic process is relatively effective, and change can happen fast, there is rising environmental awareness and willingness for change towards sustainability, there are some untapped opportunities for local food production, innovation and start-up scene is lively and active. Even though Icelanders import half of their food from abroad, most of meat, dairy and fish is sourced locally, and there are opportunities for innovation in vegetable agriculture.

The vulnerabilities include, but are not limited to: reliance on imports, lack of competition in food retail, dependence on unpredictable natural resources, such as fisheries, unfavourable weather conditions for agriculture, geographical isolation of Iceland, lack of awareness about sustainability, and public resistance to change. In the Greater Reykjavík area there seems to be a lack of synchronisation between different municipalities and lack of local food production within or around the city limits. The fact that 1/3 of food in Iceland is wasted is alarming and could be tackled locally at a city/regional policy level
Vulnerable groups.

Possible vulnerable groups when it comes to food in Reykjavík capital area: immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, elderly, poorer sections of society, such as single parents, students, perhaps people with mental disabilities, etc. Children are reliant on their parents and education system to provide them with the necessary nutrition and information about it. Socio-economic status is likely to influence people’s access to healthy food (as unhealthy options are often cheaper) and information about it (as less privileged and more socially excluded people tend to have less time and access to appropriate information)

Key priorities to be addressed

The key priorities priority areas for CRFS policy that emerged from the policy documents and interview with the representative from the Reykjavík Municipality are:

  • increasing accessibility to healthy and varied nutrition
  • improving access to information about food’s health and environmental impacts
  • shortening food value chains (“from farm to stomach”)
  • introducing urban communal gardens in neighbourhoods, kindergartens and schools
  • increasing local food production in and around the capital area
  • registering food waste and carbon/environmental footprint of food provided by municipalities
  • closer cooperation and synchronisation of food policies between the municipalities in Reykjavík area
  • improving food quality and food culture
  • fostering food-related innovation
  • reducing and valorising food waste
  • educating citizens and food providers about sustainable and healthy diets


Key issues for further research

Based on this CRFS policy scan, there are many areas for further research where even baseline information is missing. For instance, it would be helpful to know how much of what is produced within the capital area, how much is wasted, what are the strong and weak points of the Reykjavík food system and how do stakeholders define food system resilience and food security. Below are some questions that should be answered in further research: 

  • how much of what is produced in the Reykjavík area?
  • how do food value chains look like in the capital area for the main food products?
  • how much food waste is generated and where in the food value chains?
  • what are the main sources of food waste and inefficient use of food? 
  • how can the public be mobilised to change their food-related habits towards sustainability?
  • what are the main strengths and vulnerabilities of the Reykjavík food system?




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