The study of industrial symbiosis (IS) has largely focused on the exchange of energy and materials among industrial processes in an effort to increase value and reduce environmental impact. Agricultural systems, particularly those located in developing countries, can benefit from the principles of IS. Relatively few studies have analyzed the potential benefits of integrated material and energy flows in smallholder farming, even though these systems are considered essential to the world's food supply and poverty reduction.
Although the concepts can be applied to virtually any system, the study of industrial symbiosis has traditionally focused on industrialized systems in developed countries. The research presented here applies the principles of IS to smallholder farms using optimization techniques to maximize farm output while minimizing wastes. Our research links IS to the growing field of integrated farming research (IFR), which seeks to create new technologies that increase the production of farms by viewing the farm as a system. Bridging these fields enriches the potential for robust research outcomes in both areas and fills a current knowledge gap. IS benefits from exploring new applications and increasing its penetration into the developing world. IFR benefits from established IS tools to create alternate pathways for increased output based on symbiotic relationships.
A small farming system in Liberia, West Africa, is used as a case study. System integration of individual unit processes shows increased productivity and decreased waste. The results of this analysis indicate that there are unrealized opportunities for IS in developing countries, and integration of IS techniques into smallholder farming operations has the potential for impacting sustainable development.