Simon Groot, the founder of East-West Seed in the Philippines, is the recipient of the 2019 World Food Prize.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and World Food Prize Foundation president Kenneth Quinn announced that Groot will receive the 2019 World Food Prize for playing a transformative role in improving the health and economic opportunities of small farmer communities in the Philippines and in more than 60 tropical countries in the world by helping them move from subsistence farming to horticultural entrepreneurship.
Known as the “Nobel Prize for Food,” the 2019 World Food Prize honors the unique achievements of Groot and his company EWS over the past four decades. It is considered the most important international award for those who have made exceptional achievements to improve the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
The prize was founded in 1986 by Dr. Norman Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, the World Food Prize has honored 49 outstanding people who have made significant contributions worldwide.
Groot, a Dutch seedsman, has successfully developed a dynamic, smallholder-centric tropical vegetable seed industry, starting in Lipa City, Batangas and spreading throughout the rest of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
His work has invigorated both rural and urban markets for vegetable crops, making nutritious vegetables more widely available and affordable for millions of families each year.
“Like Dr. Norman Borlaug before him, Simon Groot has dedicated his life to improving the livelihoods of millions around the world,” said Quinn.
“He and his company have, in effect, developed an impactful global network of seed producers who are transforming the lives of 20 million farmers every year. For this extraordinary accomplishment, he truly deserves to be named the 2019 World Food Prize Laureate,” Quinn said.
When Groot started East-West Seed with Filipino seed trader Benito Domingo in 1982, commercial vegetable breeding was all but unknown in the Philippines and other tropical countries, and many farmers were having a hard time growing a good crop with the low-quality, poorly adapted seeds they often saved from season to season.
Low-quality seeds resulted in low yields, which translated into poverty and malnutrition for farmers and their families. Groot sympathized with the farmers’ plight and saw a way to break the vicious cycle of poverty and help farmers prosper through diversification into high-value vegetable crops.
Working closely with local and international NGOs, Groot also created East-West Seed’s innovative knowledge transfer program which trains tens of thousands of farmers each year in agricultural best practices for vegetable production.
Emphasizing the hard work and dedication of the local farmers, Groot said: “This prize is really for the millions of small farmers who have successfully moved from farming for survival to building sustainable businesses for themselves and their communities. They have proven that small scale vegetable farming is an effective way to grow rural income and employment and improve nutrition at the same time.”
Dr. Ir. Louise Fresco, president of Wageningen University and Research said: “I am proud that with our scientific research we have been able to contribute to the development and growth of the tropical vegetable market, as such cooperation between all parties is the strength of the Dutch approach. Dr. Borlaug would have been impressed by the boldness, commitment, and vision of Simon Groot, and I’m sure he would have shared his conviction that real food security must include not only calories but also the nutritional benefits that vegetables provide.“
Groot will receive the World Food Prize on Oct. 17, 2019 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.
East-West Seed is the market leader for tropical vegetable seeds in Asia and expanding rapidly in Africa and Latin America.
The privately-owned company has played an important role in the development and improvement of tropical vegetable varieties in Southeast Asia and other tropical countries. When Groot and Domingo founded the company in 1982 in Lipa City, Batangas, they set out to improve the income of smallholder farmers in the tropics through high-quality seeds.
East-West Seed develops vegetable varieties that are adapted to tropical markets and growing conditions and generate increased yield and productivity for farmers. In addition, the company educates farmers and helps them to maximize their yield and income through better knowledge on vegetable production.
Today, East-West Seed is one of the 10 largest vegetable seed companies in the world. In 2016, East-West Seed ranked number one in the “Global Index for Vegetable Seed Companies” and “Regional Index for Eastern Africa” by Access to Seeds, an independent organization funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The company maintained its top ranking in the 2019 Global and South and Southeast Asia Indices. The Seed Index measures the efforts of the world’s leading seed companies to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers.
It is a fast-growing, multicultural organization with around 5,000 employees. It has 14 R&D establishments in six countries and 10 seed processing facilities in seven countries. The company exports to over 60 countries in tropical areas of the world.
East-West Seed has three R&D establishments in Bulacan, Batangas, and Bukidnon, and its local head office is located in San Rafael, Bulacan.
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