Simon N. Groot, the 2019 winner of the World Food Prize, said he built his company’s success on one philosophy: “Be a true friend of farmers, because the small guys really do matter — and so do vegetables.”
The Dutch businessman, who helped found East-West Seed, received the award in Des Moines on Thursday for his work to develop seeds that helped millions of small farmers escape poverty through improved vegetable production.
Working with researchers in the Philippines, Groot and a partner provided the first locally developed commercial vegetable hybrids in tropical Asia. The varieties were fast-growing, high-yielding and resistant to local diseases and stresses.
Before that, farmers often saved seeds from season to season, which resulted in low yields and poverty and malnutrition for the farmers and their families.
Groot said the seeds alone were not enough, though. The company had to train farmers on practices that would net them the highest yields.
“The best way to become a true friend of the farmer was to give them tools to make more money … quality seeds and the knowledge to make the best use of them,” Groot told agricultural and political leaders attending the ceremony at the Iowa Capitol.
According to Access to Seeds Foundation executive director Ido Verhagen, the model of East-West Seed has also grown into an inspiration to the whole seed industry: “When we started in 2013 discussing with the seed industry on how they could increase their contribution there was a lot of pushback from larger seed companies. Would it be a viable business model to sell seeds to small farmers and provide training to support adoption? East-West Seed proves that it is possible.”
Verhagen: “Fortunately the Access to Seeds Index has identified that East-West Seed is not alone: many more seed companies are active in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia and focus their effort on improving the productivity of smallholder farmers. But East-West Seed is definitely the leader of the pack. It outperformed all competitors in both the first and the second Access to Seeds Index and ranked number one in both editions. It has set a standard and is raising the bar.”
Board and team of the Access to Seeds Foundation congratulate Simon Groot and East-West Seed with this well-deserved recognition of their leadership.