Agriculture, breeding, fishing, industry. – More than 40% of the population is employed in agriculture and livestock breeding. The Icelandic farm (jörd) includes a farm surrounded by a grassy clearing (tún), enclosed by an embankment or by barbed iron, and uncultivated meadows; often it also includes marshy land, which reclamation gradually returns to agriculture. Then there is the part of the estate (afréttur) which is part of the common pastures (located in the mountains), where the sheep herd graze all summer.
The farm is made up of a series of houses joined by the side parts and built of rough stone and peat. Each house has only one room and its own roof. Only the facade of the house is made of tarred wood or coated with galvanized tin; the side walls, on the other hand, as well as the rear part of the house and the roofs, are covered with peat mixed with grasses. Peat, dried twigs, dried sheep dung and driftwood are used as fuel. Wooden houses are rare, except in the cities and on the markets; all new houses are currently made of concrete.
The tún are used as a meadow and fertilized annually: the hay that is harvested is given to the cows and the best saddle horses as winter food. The other meadows are used in part for the collection of hay which serves as winter provision for the other horses and for the sheep, in part they are grazed.
Iceland has a large number of sheep and horses. Sheep in 1930 amounted to about 682,000 and both meat and wool are still an important export item. Cattle (in 1930, 30,100 head) are of good breed and provide fatty milk: they are more suitable for milk than for meat production. The horses (in 1930 there were about 49,000) are small, but very resistant, and are used as pack, saddle and draft horses. Goats in 1930 amounted to 3000, pigs are missing. Among the birds, chickens were raised (in 1928, 36,000) and a small number of ducks.
To encourage the development of agriculture, the Bunadarfèlag, which is an institution subsidized by the state, and numerous agricultural associations operate in Iceland.
Fishing, which 20% of the residents dedicate themselves to, is the island’s most important resource. Originally fishing was done with simple boats, but now modernly equipped motor and steam boats are also used. The Icelandic fishing fleet (23,000 tons overall) in 1927 counted 1141 boats and 261 boats, of which 46 steamboats (totaling 15,000 tons). More than 5 / 6exports from Iceland consist of fishing products, and especially dried fish, which are mainly shipped to Spain and Italy; herring is sent to Sweden, and chilled fish, oil and fishmeal to Great Britain. Denmark exercises superintendence over fisheries, but Iceland is increasingly participating in the surveillance of its coasts.
The industry, up to now, has had very modest importance, but it tends to develop; 12% of the population devoted themselves to it in 1920. Iceland, thanks to its waterfalls, whose strength has been estimated at over 4 million HP., Has the possibility of becoming an industrial country. So far, white coal has only been used for a few electrical workshops and a couple of fabric factories. There are also factories on the island for the production of oil and fish meal, and cod liver oil, which are exported, and various margarine and mineral water factories. The domestic industry, which is very much in decline, is still practiced in the countryside (fabrics and knitting) and in some places cloth gloves and socks are exported. The mining industry is limited to
Trade and communications. – The commercial movement is undergoing considerable development; in 1920 13% of the population derived means of subsistence from trade, which, while in the past it was completely in the hands of the Danes, is now exercised largely by the natives. Cooperative societies dealing with both export and import are found everywhere in Iceland: they have merged into a federation.
The value of imports in 1928 amounted to 64.4 million crowns, of which 9 million represented by textiles, 5 by wheat, 4 by coal and coking coal, 1.8 by sugar and syrup, 3 by salt, etc. ; the value of exports at 80 million crowns: of these, 60 million crowns were of fish, 9 of fish oil and cod liver oil, 3 of wool.
Icelandic exports go mainly to Spain (⅓ of exports), Great Britain, Denmark, Italy, Norway and Sweden. Most of the imported products come from Great Britain (over ⅓), Norway (over ¼) and Germany.
The Icelandic Steam Company, formed in 1914, owns 6 steamers, which maintain regular communications with foreign countries (Great Britain, Denmark, Hamburg). The service between Denmark and Iceland, and between Norway and Iceland is operated by a Danish company and a Norwegian company which own numerous steamers. The navigation along the coasts is exercised by the state with a boat that makes 17 trips a year; the local service, on the other hand, is carried out by small private boats.
In the past in Iceland all transport was done on horseback; now, however, that ⅔ of the main roads and numerous secondary roads have been made suitable for vehicles, and that many bridges in reinforced concrete or iron have been built over the rivers, long stretches of roads can also be traveled by motor vehicles (1434 cars in 1930). There are no railways. A telegraph cable connects Iceland to Europe via Scotland and most of the regions of the island are now connected to each other by telephone.