What are the risks associated with land-use change?

When lands are cultivated to supply food, energy, or any other marketable good, two types of risks arise: The first is that other critical land uses are reduced, such food production, because of increased competition in access to land. The second is that some activities are displaced, leading to ecosystem degradation elsewhere, such as forest conversion (named ILUC: Indirect Land Use Change).

In the case of marginal lands, such as those addressed by MarginUp!, these risks are limited because the objective is to enable production on lands that were under-utilised due to low productivity or other constraints. Furthermore, our project pays a great deal of attention to the impacts on environmental services and biodiversity, both on site and at landscape/regional level. For these reasons, risks associated with land-use change resulting from the MarginUp! use cases are limited and in some cases reversed, where biodiversity and ecosystem services are enhanced through the proposed land use. This is illustrated in various ways with the feedstocks produced for the bioenergy, cosmetic, and/or food sectors targeted by the project.

How are degraded and unhealthy soils affecting Europe's agriculture and economy?

It has been estimated that soil degradation in the EU comes with an economic cost of more than EUR 50 billion per year (EEA, 2023). Overcoming soil degradation or poor soil health increases the exploitation costs of using the land as compared to working on productive land, increasing the economic burden of farmers. The yields are lower and crop plant growth is limited due to one or multiple limiting biophysical or socio-economic factors.

How will MarginUp! contribute to restore and maintain soil biodiversity?

MarginUp addresses soil biodiversity in cases, where regional stakeholders have identified it as a key issue. In these cases, the impact and effects of the tested cropping systems in the use cases on soil biodiversity, for example will be assessed and compared with cropping alternatives. Following this assessment, potential improvements of the impacts of the cropping system on soil biodiversity will be analysed and communicated with the regional stakeholders again, creating a feedback loop. All work will be performed using available data and rule-based ecosystem models.

What is intercropping?

Intercropping is a sustainable agricultural practice that can contribute to biodiversity enhancement, resource conservation and land resilience. It involves two or more crops cultivated simultaneously or in a planned sequence in the same field. The different crops grow in close proximity to each other, either in alternating rows or mixed in the same field. There are many types of intercropping systems, including strip, mixed, and relay intercropping. Intercropping requires careful planning, knowledge of crop compatibility and appropriate monitoring and management practices to achieve the desired outcomes.

The crop combination in an intercropping system offers various benefits. The crops have different growth rates, nutrient needs, and rooting systems, so intercropping optimises the land use, maximises the available resource utilisation, boosting their productivity. It can reduce soil erosion, improve the soil’s fertility and structure, and enhance the crop’s yield and sustainability. It also deters pests and diseases and reduces the need for chemical interventions.

What is low indirect land-use change (ILUC) biomass? And how will it be used/applied in MarginUp!?

Low indirect land-use change (ILUC) biomass refers to biomass feedstocks or biofuels produced with minimal or no negative impact on ILUC. ILUC occurs when biomass or biofuels demand leads to the conversion of agricultural or forest land, often in the form of deforestation or the conversion of natural habitats. This conversion releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and results in the loss of biodiversity.

Low ILUC biomass can reduce these environmental and social impacts and promote sustainable alternatives that contribute to climate change mitigation. Its production involves utilising existing agricultural land, implementing efficient land management techniques, and using residues or waste materials rather than dedicated crops or land.

MarginUp! will focus on understanding which marginal lands are suitable for ILUC biomass production to further improve biodiversity and environment benefits. The goal of the project is to increase knowledge about the production and use of biomass with low ILUC risk and impact for different agricultural systems and climate conditions on marginal lands.

What is the replication potential for MarginUp!’s proposed alternatives across Europe and beyond?

Replication potential for MarginUp! solutions for marginal lands definitely exists across the EU and abroad. Current policies differ from one country to another and do not always acknowledge and support the importance of restoring and preserving marginal lands across Europe. In most countries there is no clear strategy or roadmap for the restoration and valorisation of marginal lands. MarginUp! will help to overcome these shortcomings by better understanding the limiting factors, developing strategies, measures and tools for implementing alternative land use practices, and the value chains that can generate revenues and benefits for local economies from these lands.

Based on the successful implementation of the project’s technical, organisational and product innovations, replication greatly depends on the supportiveness of the business environments and capacity building. By proving the benefits of biomass production on marginal lands, MarginUp! will support governments and entrepreneurs to address barriers and limitations in the business environments. In order to ensure continued replication and sustainable success beyond the end of the project, MarginUp! will implement a dissemination, exploitation, and communication strategy that addresses and engages as many stakeholders as possible beyond the project’s use cases.