About Hafdis Hanna

I am a plant ecologist and Director of the Icelandic UNU- Land Restoration Training Programme (UNU-LRT). I studied Biology at the University of Iceland and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), and hold a Ph.D. from the University of Basel, Switzerland, where I studied alpine plant ecology. I have organised and participated in botanical and ecological field courses and expeditions in many different ecosystems, from Svalbard and Greenland in the Arctic to the Galapagos Islands at the Equator but my recent work-related travels are mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. My research interests are in the fields of plant- and restoration ecology, biogeography, and science education. I have published on plant ecology, education and travels in peer-reviewed journals and public literature. I like taking photographs and sing jazz- and cabaret music.

Communicating environmental challenges with photography

Photography is art. Photography is a way of expressing yourself – a way of sharing. Photographs tell stories – stories of people, nature, cultures and events. Photographs are good to dissminate knowlegde and raise awareness. I like photos and photo exhibitions. Good photograps make me laugh or want to cry,  they fill my imagination and make me want to travel the world.

In Reykjavik‘s City Hall, I recently saw a memorable photo exhibition with photos from Angola taken by five talented photographers from Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Angola. The theme of the exhibition was “Save and protect the earth/Salvar e preservar o planeta“ and the photos covered  important issues such as water, health, megacities, resources and soil. The exhibition has been travelling the world since it was first presented at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development‘s session in 2010. The aim of the exhibition was to encourage the Angolan population to get involved with sustainable develpment issues as stated in the exhibition‘s flyer. The photos focus on Angola‘s soil, water, people, complexes and resources – but they look very familiar. Photos of people doing their daily routines; working, trading, laughing or worrying about their loved ones, are universal and could have been taken in many other places on Earth. The same goes for the nature, the soil we grow our crops in and the water we drink. The exhibition covers pressing issues of major importance for our future on Earth and that together with high quality photos make the exhibition breathtaking.

I have never been to Angola, but this autumn I will revisit Angola‘s neighbouring country Namibia on a work mission. I know that issues such as soil, water and resources will catch my eye on the trip along with the stunning beauty of the Namib Desert. Equipped with my camera I will be able to communicate Namibia‘s golden desert, amazing biota and environmental challenges when back home.

Below are two of my photos from a work mission to Niger, West Africa in 2012.
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The people who live on the Gorou Beri plain close to Niamey in Niger work on restoring degraded land in order to improve their food security and livelihood.

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Land degradation is a serious challenge in Niger, West Africa, threatening the welfare of its people.

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Does soil make your heart beat?

Soil usually doesn´t make people jump with excitement. It is not as scary as snakes, beautiful like an orchid or magnificent as giraffes and elephants. Let’s admit it – many people really don´t think soil is sexy. I am not a soil scientist and I have to confess that I find plants more attractive than soils. That shouldn‘t come as a surprise since I am trained as a plant ecologist. Instead of studying soil profiles, I spent eight years studying lovely arctic and alpine plant species in the stunning landscapes of the Swiss Alps, Greenland, Svalbard and Iceland.

Nevertheless, soils are extremely important and actually quite interesting and attractive if I come to think of it. They are full of life. They hold more carbon than vegetation and the atmosphere combined and they reinforce our planet´s life support system. Knowing the importance of soil and its ties with global food security, it is a worrying fact that land degradation is a major global challenge, affecting the life of millions of people, especially in the poorest part of the world.

Last week, an international conference on Soil Carbon Sequestration for climate, food security and ecosystem services was held in Reykjavik. Scientists from all over the world gathered to share their knowledge and ideas as well as thinking of ways to bridge the gap between science, policy and action in relation to soil carbon sequestration – a critical issue in the quest to make a real difference and live in a sustainable world. At the conference, I introduced our work at the United Nations University Land Restoration Training Programme, and how we strive to link science/knowledge, policy and action. The programme offers annually a six-month training course for specialists coming from developing countries faced with severe land degradation. Our aim is to graduate specialists who are able to act on their knowledge, drive actions at local community to policy levels and we hope that our trainees are able to make the critical link between the science, policy and action on return to their home countries. Testimonials from former trainees give us hope that they are able to do so and that our programme is a fruitful platform for learning and sharing ideas on how to combat land degradation and restore degraded land with the multiple benefits for climate, food security and ecosystem services.

Dryas octopetala

Summer has arrived in Iceland. On a hike last weekend in the foothills of a volcano, I saw one of my favourite plant species flowering, the mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala). The beautiful white flower caught my attention and filled my heart with joy. What about the soil, which the mountain Avens could not live without? Yes, it did catch my attention and I can’t wait to dive into the Icelandic volcanic soils this summer with my three year old daughter. Together, we will feel its texture, look at its colour and maybe taste it as well. In addition, I will tell her about its magic – its importance – its biota. Although I am still not convinced that soil is sexy, I do find it fun, exciting, attractive and important. What more can you ask for?

Hafdis Hanna

Some coverage of the conference in the international media:

Inter Press News Network
http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/peak-water-peak-oilnow-peak-soil/

Al Jazeera global news network
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/05/2013531155229173615.html

Reuters Alert Net
http://www.trust.org/item/20130531154627-q1fcy

Jakarta Globe
http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/international/peak-water-peak-oil-now-peak-soil/