Being awarded the 2019 World Food Prize is a tremendous honor, and I’m excited to join hundreds of food and development experts, innovators and leaders from around the globe at this year’s Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium. The theme—“Pax Agricultura: Peace Through Agriculture”—could not be more timely, as we confront the interconnected global challenges of climate change, conflict, mass migration and food security.
In my 37 years at East-West Seed, I have witnessed the enormous impact that vegetable seeds can have on farmers, communities and countries. Small farmers produce more than a third of the world’s food, and by making more varieties of more vegetables available to more people, vegetable growers are improving their own livelihoods while supplying food with high nutritional value. Vegetables offer the nutrition that all people, especially children, need to live healthy, productive lives. Growers who participate in our Knowledge Transfer program are able to produce better yields and command higher prices, earning more for their labor and creating a more sustainable economic future for their families.
Building on the transformative work of Dr. Norman Borlaug, East-West Seed and its partners have led the “Vegetable Revolution” in Southeast Asia, and we’re now turning our sights to Sub-Saharan Africa. In the coming decades, there is massive potential to advance agricultural practices, create new markets and improve health and nutrition across the continent—and it all starts with quality, locally-adapted vegetable seeds. Development experts from different disciplines and regions are coming together to propose solutions to the world’s most intractable problems. We believe that vegetables—and vegetable seeds—are a simple, yet overlooked, solution to many of those problems.
At this year’s symposium, I’m looking forward to a great dialogue about these issues and more with past WFP Laureate Jan Low and luminaries like Purvi Mehta of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Marco Wopereis of WorldVeg, Ido Verhagen of the Access to Seeds Index and Roy Steiner of The Rockefeller Foundation. The opportunity for East-West Seed to convene so many great thinkers and changemakers in discussion is an exciting one, as we chart the future of food and farming.
Meeting Dr. Borlaug during an international conference in Indonesia in the late 1980s was a pivotal moment for me, and his legacy has continued to serve as an inspiration for everything I have done at East-West Seed. Despite the many successes and advancements we have witnessed over the past several decades, nearly 2 billion people still do not get adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. This precarity is fueled by the fact that agriculture currently produces only a third of the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, while over-producing whole grains by 25 percent.
I firmly believe that quality vegetable seeds, coupled with knowledge transfer, have the potential to address many of the development challenges we face today. With the right partners, we can support vegetable growers to seize economic opportunity and bring vegetables to their communities and city markets. Bringing about the “Vegetable Revolution” will be a fitting tribute to the work of Dr. Borlaug.