The rapid increase of the world population constantly demands more food production from agricultural soils. This causes conflicts, since at the same time strong interest arises on novel bio-based products from agriculture, and new perspectives for rural landscapes with their valuable ecosystem services. Agriculture is in transition to fulfill these demands. In many countries, conventional farming, influenced by post-war food requirements, has largely been transformed into integrated and sustainable farming. However, since it is estimated that agricultural production systems will have to produce food for a global population that might amount to 9.1 billion by 2050 and over 10 billion by the end of the century, we will require an even smarter use of the available land, including fallow and derelict sites. One of the biggest challenges is to reverse non-sustainable management and land degradation. Innovative technologies and principles have to be applied to characterize marginal lands, explore options for remediation and re-establish productivity. With view to the heterogeneity of agricultural lands, it is more than logical to apply specific crop management and production practices according to soil conditions. Cross-fertilizing with conservation agriculture, such a novel approach will provide (1) increased resource use efficiency by producing more with less (ensuring food security), (2) improved product quality, (3) ameliorated nutritional status in food and feed products, (4) increased sustainability, (5) product traceability and (6) minimized negative environmental impacts notably on biodiversity and ecological functions. A sustainable strategy for future agriculture should concentrate on production of food and fodder, before utilizing bulk fractions for emerging bio-based products and convert residual stage products to compost, biochar and bioenergy. The present position paper discusses recent developments to indicate how to unlock the potentials of marginal land.
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