The Promised Land: Contrasting frames of marginal land in the European Union

A. Muscat*, E.M. de Olde, J.J.L. Candel, I.J.M. de Boer, R. Ripoll-Bosch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Appropriating marginal land is seen as a way to overcome a wide range of land-use challenges such as food-feed-fuel competition, avoiding land abandonment, and preserving nature. As a result, there is growing interest in policy and academic communities to identify, define and measure the potential of marginal land to overcome these challenges. However, multiple definitions of marginal land exist due to the various ways of framing the problems and the solutions marginal land can address. This leads to a number of competing claims on and diverging debates about marginal land. To explore the competing claims on marginal land in these frames, we performed a framing analysis of EU policy debates about marginal land. Through this analysis, we find that different actors have conflicting ways of framing what problems marginal land can address and what courses of action to take. These frames do not overcome but form part of contested land-use debates already present in Europe. Exact definitions or estimations of marginal land are unlikely to overcome land-use debates because land-use decisions are subject to the same competing claims and hence normative decisions as land-use decisions around productive land. These marginal land frames reflect a vision for how land should be used; for food, feed, fuel or nature. We argue that exact estimations of marginal land are unlikely to fix controversies on land-use due to the inherent ambiguity of marginal land. Instead, we believe that deliberative science-policy relationships are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105860
JournalLand Use Policy
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Abandoned land
  • Ambiguity
  • Degraded land
  • Food systems
  • Framing


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