Studies showed that hunger is a daily reality for 2.4-million families in the Philippines and around 800 million people globally.
To help solve hunger, Simon Groot, East-West Seed Founder and World Food Prize Laureate 2019, has pushed for a “vegetable revolution” as a sustainable solution to help address these global food challenges.
“When I first visited Southeast Asia many years ago, it pained me to see so many small farmers struggling to make a living,” Groot recalled in a recent press briefing.
He believed that commercial vegetable breeding was still unknown in the tropics, and many farmers were still having a hard time growing a good crop with the low-quality, poorly adapted seeds which they often save from season to season.
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.
Groot will formally receive the World Food Prize on October 17, 2019 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.
He is also here in the Philippines to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of the Philippines (UP) at the 47th Commencement Exercises of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños.
With the mission to improve the lives of the poor, especially smallholder farmers, throughout Southeast Asia, Groot founded East-West Seed in the Philippines in 1982 with Filipino seed trader Benito Domingo. East-West Seed is a nod to the fact that their partnership is between an Asian and a European.
Together with a team of young breeders from Wageningen University in the Netherlands and University of the Philippines Los Banos, they started to develop hybrid vegetable varieties in a five-hectare farm in Lipa City, Batangas.
In 1986, the “Jade Star” bitter gourd was introduced, the first locally developed commercial vegetable hybrid in the Philippines and in all Southeast Asia. Soon, other improved vegetable varieties followed like tomato, eggplant, pumpkin, yard long bean, onion, several brassicas, and leafy vegetables, like kangkong.
Through the years, East-West Seed developed vegetable varieties with enhanced disease resistance and significantly higher yields. Through this initiative, East-West Seed was able to create an impactful global network of seed producers who are transforming the lives of millions of farmers every year.
Today, East-West Seed is one of the 10 largest vegetable seed companies in the world, serving over 20 million smallholder farmers in 60 tropical countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America with its over 900 improved vegetable varieties.
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.
Groot recently won the prestigious World Food Prize, in recognition of his contribution to improving security and nutrition and creating sustainable economic opportunities for small farmers around the world.
Known as the “Nobel Prize for Food,” the 2019 World Food Prize honored the unique achievements of Groot and his company East-West Seed over the past four decades.
The World Food Prize is an international award that recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
“More than 20 million farmers have given us their trust over the past 37 years. Seeing their smiles after a successful harvest is the only reward I need. For this reason, I dedicate my World Food Prize to them,” Groot revealed.
UP confers the honorary degree upon individuals who have demonstrated “outstanding achievements in their fields and exemplary service to their fellowmen.” Since the inception of East-West Seed, UP has been a partner of the seed company in improving vegetable varieties for farmers and consumers alike.
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