Agro – Eco Parks –> an introduction

The agro-eco-industrial park or estate is strategically very important to sustainable development. Around the world conventional agribusiness is dependent upon unsustainable, polluting, and costly petrochemical inputs; it is destructive of soil and water resources. Its industrialized nature and emphasis upon export crops undermines rural communities and their livelihood in indigenous crops. Conventional agriculture violates all principles of sustainable development.

Farmers in many Asian countries, including Japan, Thailand, China, India, and the Philippines have been developing sustainable agriculture practices appropriate to their regions, often with the support  of institutes such as the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (near Manila) and the Food and Fertilizer Technology Center (Taipei). Often the “innovations” of sustainable farming are simply the relearning of traditional practices. A large scale field test in China in the late 1990s demonstrated that increasing the diversity of rice strains — instead of growing only one strain as a monocrop – almost doubled productivity while eliminating most of destruction of crops by fungus and chemical inputs. (Youyong Zhu et al 2000) In Thailand government policy is seeking to regain,  through sustainable agriculture practices, the productivity lost to exhaustion of soil by industrialized farming on former forest land. (Buch-Hansen. 2000 and Setboonsarng and Gilman 1999)

On the demand side, the market for organically produced grains, fruit, and vegetables is growing rapidly in Europe, the US, and Japan and beginning to open in some developing countries. (Kortbech-Olesen. 2000) Organic produce sells at premium prices, and many leading supermarkets now feature organic sections. There is growing evidence of a trend toward sustainable agriculture driven by the need to conserve soil, water, and energy in food production and pulled by consumer demand for a healthful, non-polluted food supply.

The transition to sustainable farming requires the support of a unique cluster of companies that developers of agro-eco-parks can target for recruitment. We will build the model for this theme EIP and outline the likely tenants from proposals for agro-industrial parks in the Philippines, Thailand, Puerto Rico, and the US.

The generic model

Developing an agro-eco-industrial estate begins by using the basic strategies of eco-industrial parks regarding site selection and development, building standards, infrastructure, and management. The opportunity for profitable by-product flows between tenants is particularly high with the biomass, energy, and water intensive companies in food processing. The recruitment for an agro-park focuses on the cluster of companies that support sustainable farming, helping farmers and agribusiness realize several basic objectives:

  • Preserve and restore traditional farming practices that are ecologically sound.
  • Support the transition from petrochemical-based industrialized farming to an ecologically-based model.
  • Preserve and restore rural lands and water systems, avoiding further degradation.
  • Preserve and renew the economies and societies of rural communities.

Achieving these objectives of sustainable agriculture calls for a very different support system than the present agribusiness suppliers of petrochemically-derived fertilizers and pesticides, heavy farm equipment, and international commodity marketing.

The support system for sustainable farming includes several basic types of firms and agencies which may be recruited as tenants of an agro-eco-industrial estate:

  • Suppliers of equipment, energy, materials, and services to farmers;
  • Food processing and distribution firms;
  • Firms utilizing by-products from any part of the system.
  • Intensive food production located in or near an agro-estate, particularly as landscaping, greenhouses and aquaculture ponds.

Tenants of an EIP

We will describe some of the specific recruitment targets in each of these categories.

1. Suppliers of equipment, energy, materials, and services to farmers

Field equipment for sustainable farming is generally lighter weight, more energy efficient, and often seeks to optimize the continued use of human labor. In arid and semi-arid regions water conserving irrigation technologies are especially important, such as drip systems and soil monitoring systems. Equipment for monitoring of nutrients as well as moisture in soil enables farmers to apply various organic fertilizers and water in an efficient manner. The equipment needs of small-scale farmers may be defined primarily by the devices of appropriate technology, relatively simple tools to support productive farming.

Energy needs in food processing are intensive so an agro-park will seek ways to use co-generation energy and renewable sources. Location near a conventional power plant could yield steam and hot water for heating and cooling processes. A potential provider of renewable energy is a firm utilizing biomass by-products of farming and food production. It might operate as a distributed energy firm generating electricity and fertilizer from animal manure (with anaerobic digestors and generators it owns located on farms and dairies). An alternative would be an ethanol fermentation plant using crop and food wastes or specific bioenergy crops such as cassava as input. Fuel cell technology is evolving and methane from biomass processing could be a good source of hydrogen.

Suppliers of integrated pest management (IPM) services and products are critical to reducing the toxic outputs of farming and maintaining high productivity. These companies provide training, consulting, and beneficial predator insects and other organisms that serve as the natural enemies of common pests, without themselves becoming pests. IPM strategies need to be carefully tailored to local climates and ecosystems.

Consulting and training firms and agricultural extension agencies play an especially important role in helping farmers to learn or relearn ecologically-sound farming practices. This is especially true for employees of industrialized farms and for small to mid-scale farmers who have become dependent upon petrochemical  fertilizers and pesticides. An agro-park would include office and classroom space for programs which could be funded by processing and distribution firms, agricultural agencies, and development aid grants.

2. Food processing and distribution firms

A marketing co-op, direct marketing, or distribution center for fruits and vegetables emphasizing delivery of organic produce to market is an essential tenant of an agro-park. The co-op and direct marketing approaches increase farm revenues, as community supported agriculture (CSA) has demonstrated in Japan, Europe, and the US. (See page on CSA and Full Belly Farm.) There are relatively few organic tropical fruits in the US market and the US, Europe, and Japan all show growing demand for all forms of organic produce.

The possible food processing EIP tenants fall into three major processing categories, fruit and vegetable, dairy, and meat, fish, and poultry. A Yale University industrial ecology study for the Arecibo, Puerto Rico EIP details the processes involved, emphasizing the potential by-product usage.

“The processing of vegetables has two major components.  The first is the fresh pack segment, during which produce is sorted, trimmed, washed, graded, and packed.  The second processing segment involves peeling, stemming, pitting, trimming, chopping, and blanching.  Depending on how the produce is to be preserved, this step may also include dehydration, brining, freezing, or cooking.  Fruit follows a similar path to the marketplace, with a few additional steps, like pitting and slicing.  Fruit is most commonly preserved by canning, freezing, or fermenting.  Most of these steps require water to help transport the produce and wash the equipment.  Due to its heavy load of organic material, fruit processing results in a liquid waste with about ten times the BOD (biological oxygen demand) of domestic sewage as well as elevated TSS (total suspended solids). Other significant residues of fruit and vegetable processing are the solids consisting of peels, pits, cores, and trimmings.  These easily biodegradable organic materials are frequently used as animal feeds.  They could also be digested anaerobically, fermented for ethanol production, or composted.

“Dairy processing involves the pasteurization and homogenization of milk, and production of other products like butter, ice cream, and cheese.  Wastewater from this type of processing carries large amounts of lactose, proteins, and fat.  This means elevated BOD and also fats, oil, and grease.  This content causes problems for conventional wastewater treatment systems that don’t deal well with oily wastes.  Here again anaerobic digestion would provide the best option for breaking down these more complex organic materials.

“Finally, the meat, fish, and poultry processing industry slaughters and processes into a variety of products.  The first steps of slaughtering, segregating the carcass portions, and packing the meat are shared for both fresh and prepared meat products.  However, canned cooked products, dried products, luncheon meats, hot dogs, bacons, stews, and other ready-to-eat meat products require additional processing steps.  Most solid residues are recovered by the industry.  Meat scraps, blood, feathers, and bone are transformed into animal and pet foods.  Wastewater requires extensive treatment to reduce its organic loads (CAST, 1995). Anerobic digestion or ethanol fermentation are two alternative means to reclaim value from many meat and poultry by-products.

“In general the processors add substantial value to food products.  A close relationship with this industry would be beneficial to both the food processors and the farms in the EIP’s region.  The farms could provide the processors with a steady supply of organically grown and raised fruits, vegetables, and livestock, while the processors could provide the farms with animal feeds and organic fertilizer or compost, rather than disposing of this material as process wastes.” (Abuyuan et al 1999)

The Puerto Rican project as well as a proposed agro-EIP in the Philippines emphasize the value to food processors of using by-product steam and hot water from other EIP tenants and in turn having their material and water by-products used by other processors or farms. (Meganomics 2000) State-of-the-art facility design is important to avoid one historic by-product of animal and fish processing – the smell which makes such plants undesirable neighbors to communities!

3. Firms utilizing by-products from any part of the system;

We have indicated the major opportunities for recruitment for this category in our discussion of food processors – energy generators, manufacturers using biomass by-products, animal feed processors, greenhouses and aquaculture ponds, and a composting yard.

Renewable energy generation companies, using the farm and food processing by-products mentioned above, are important possible tenants in an agro-EIP. They include an ethanol fermentation plant and a system for anerobic digestion of farm and food processing by-products, which could use distributed systems as well as a site at the park. Both businesses make important contributions to closed-loop production and cost reductions for other tenants.

The Yale report for the Puerto Rican EIP summarizes possible ethanol feedstocks: “Recent technological developments have enabled the production of ethanol from much cheaper sources, called “lignocellulosic biomass.”  This refers to the leafy or woody portions of a plant that are inedible for humans.  Such breakthroughs have vastly expanded the range of suitable feedstocks for ethanol production and reduced production costs (Shleser, 1994).  Today, ethanol can be generated from grass crops such as napier grass, switchgrass, and sugarcane, tree crops including leucaena and eucalyptus, sweet sorghum, crop residues like corn stover, bagasse, potato waste, and citrus waste, and intriguing new sources like municipal solid waste, newspaper, yard and wood waste, and cellulosic fiber fines from recycled paper mills (Jeffries, 1995).” (Abuyuan et al 1999)
One such technology has even produced ethanol successfully from junk mail discarded by the US Postal Service. In Brazil ethanol is a signficant fuel for vehicles and in some US states it is the preferred fuel additive.

Firms utilizing anerobic digestion to reclaim organic by-products are another major renewable energy recruitment target. These include manufacturers and suppliers of the digestor and generator systems, and firms using food, farm, and residential/commercial organic discards to produce methane, electric power, and benign liquid and solid fertilizer. Anaerobic digestors utilize bacteria specific to the input mix for the conversion of organic material into methane and nutrients. (For some feedstocks aerobic digestion may be superior.) The system is completed by gen sets with energy efficiency improvement systems enabling recovery of heat usually wasted.

Since the technology can be efficiently operated at small to medium scale, a business could operate a network of distributed systems installed at the site of production of farm or landfill organic wastes as well as a central facility in an appropriate location. Dairy, poultry, pork, and fish farming, cattle feedlots, and processing plants generate high levels of wastes, which are costly economically and environmentally. This company would offer efficient discard management solutions to the food producers and processors along with a renewable source of energy. (Based on US EPA AgStar program material. http://www.epa.

Other organic by-product processors include: a composting yard which would directly process farm and food processing discards as well as the solid by-products of energy plants; a specialty paper minimill using rice straw and other farm fiber by-products; a bioplastics or other biomaterials plant using some components of the by-product stream as well as crops grown for this purpose such as bamboo, kenaf, or industrial hemp.  Living Machines is an ecological water treatment system that complements the functions of the technologies just described. It has been used in major food industry applications in the US and Brazil. See Chapter 4 for details.

4. Intensive food production located in or near an agro-estate

Greenhouses and aquaculture ponds are another way to utilize by-product water, energy, and biomass from other tenants of an agro-park. These operations could be tenants on the site or in neighboring agricultural land. When operated within agro-ecological guidelines they offer high productivity, high value products,  and low environmental impact. The ZERI brewery case study indicates a few of the potential linkages. The Integrated Bio-systems Network web site provides many field reports on similar projects in developing countries. http://www.ias.unu.edu/proceedings/icibs/ibs/ibsnet/

ZERI Brewery in Namibia

The Zero Emissions Research Initiative (ZERI) is a worldwide network that researches and fosters eco-industrial development initiatives. ZERI serves as a public think-tank providing technical and scientific information for the advancement of these projects. This initiative started in 1994 in Japan through collaboration between the United Nations University (UNU) and ZERI. The first Zero Emission World Conference was held in Tokyo in 1995 and many from both public and private sectors participated in the meeting and introduced the idea to their communities.

ZERI projects tend to focus in industries generating large wastestreams of biomass, such as beer breweries and other food and beverage plants. Namibia Breweries Limited and the University of Namibia have created the ZERI-BAG (Brewing-Aquaculture-Agriculture) project at the Tunweni Brewery at Tsumeb in the North of this southern African country. The project seeks to use the solid and liquid waste streams of the sorghum brewery as production inputs to an integrated farming system near the facility.

The brewery’s outputs include sewage treated in a biodigester, plant wash down and boiler blow down water, and spent grains with high carbohydrate content. The plan for this project envisions the following by-product flows:

  • The digester turns the sewage into composted fertilizer and methane.
  • The farm uses the spent grains to grow mushrooms and earth worms and to feed pigs. A bakery also uses a portion of the grain for bread.
  • The earth worm growing medium forms a superior compost for crops.
  • The brewing process water is used to wash down pig pens, with the slurry going into the biodigester.
  • The methane gas replaces a portion of the fuel oil needed for the brewery’s boiler.
  • Algae basins process water from the digester and grow algae for cattle feed.
  • The water from these basins flows into deepwater fish ponds to grow 6 species of tilapia that feed at different levels.

Variations on this sort of brewery, agriculture, agriculture symbiosis are under development in China, Fiji, Japan and other countries.

(Based on “ZERI BAG Project in Namibia” an unattributed paper at the University of Namibia http://www.unam.na/4320/train3.htm.)

5. Other potential recruitment targets

The agro-EIP’s close linkage to farming suggests other tenants that are particularly suitable for this type of development. Manufacturers using primary biomaterials such as kenaf, hemp, or bamboo could find business synergies with other manufacturing tenants as well as their nearby suppliers. Resource recovery tenants serving the broader community could collaborate with those only functioning within the site.


Abuyuan, Alethea, Hawken, Iona, Williams, Roger. and Newkirk, Michael. 1999. Waste Equals Food: Developing a Sustainable Agriculture Support Cluster for Renova Resource Recovery Park Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Report from a graduate industrial ecology project by students at Yale University, School of Forestry. New Haven, CT.
(DeSilva 1999)

Meganomics Specialists International. 2000. Sustainable Agro-Industrial Development – A Proposal for the Bulacan Housing and Agro-Industrial (BUHAI) Project. Manila, Philippines.

Integrated Biosystems Electronic Conference Proceedings: http://www.ias.unu.edu/proceedings/icibs/ibs/
This site describes many examples of integrated systems for managing farm and food processing by-products in developing countries.

Sununtar Setboonsarng and Jonathan Gilman. 1999. Alternative agriculture in Thailand and Japan.  Asian Institute of Technology  http://www.solutions-site.org/cat11_sol85.htm

Mogens Buch-Hansen. 2000. Sustainable Agriculture in Thailand, is it feasible? Working Paper of Roskilde University, Denmark. http://www.globasia.dk/papers/MBH(01-00)2.htm

Rudy Kortbech-Olesen. 2000, Export Opportunities of Organic Food from Developing Countries. WorldOrganics 2000, London, 9-10 May 2000. http://www.ifoam.org/orgagri/worldorganics_2000_conference.html

International Trade Centre. 1999. Organic Food and Beverages: World Supply and Major European Markets. “One of the major conclusions of this study was that demand is growing rapidly in most markets, and that insufficient supply of organic products is the main problem rather than lack of supply. It is on this background that we believe developing countries are going to play a very important role in the global trade in organic foodstuff.”

Stiftung Ökologie & Landbau (SÖL) 1999. Organic Agriculture World-Wide – Statistics and Perspectives, on IFOAM homepage http://www.ifoam.org/orgagri/oaworld.html http://www.ifoam.org/links/4.html

Young, Emily. 2000. Networks of Support for Sustainable Agriculture. Report of a Cornell student intern’s research project for Indigo Development.

Youyong Zhu, Hairu Chen, Jinghua Fan, Yunyue Wang, Yan Li, Jianbing Chen, JinXiang Fan, Shisheng Yang, Lingping Hu, Hei Leung, Tom W. Mew, Paul S. Teng, Zonghua Wang, Christopher C. Mundt. 2000. “Genetic diversity and disease control in rice,” Nature Volume 406 Number 6797 Page 718 – 722 (2000) 17 August 2000

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