A man who is credited with transforming the lives of 20 million farmers ever year was honored today (June 10) as the 2019 World Food Prize Laureate.
Simon N. Groot of the Netherlands empowered millions of smallholder farmers in more than 60 countries to earn greater incomes through enhanced vegetable production, benefitting hundreds of millions of consumers with greater access to nutritious vegetables for healthy diets.
"Like Dr. Norman Borlaug before him, Simon N. Groot has dedicated his life to improving the livelihoods of millions around the world," said Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, in making the announcement. "With his partner in the Philippines, he began developing vegetable varieties with enhanced disease resistance and significantly higher yields. As the use of his seeds spread throughout the Philippines and to Thailand, Indonesia and across Southeast Asia, farmers' daily lives were uplifted and consumers benefited from greater access to nutritious vegetables. Mr. Groot in effect developed a stunningly 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."
Awarded by the World Food Prize Foundation, this $250,000 prize honors Groot's achievements as the founder and leader of East-West Seed. His initiative over the past four decades has developed a dynamic, smallholder-centric tropical vegetable seed industry, starting in Southeast Asia and spreading through Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Groot has led the transition of millions of subsistence farmers to horticulture entrepreneurs, thereby greatly enhancing their livelihoods and income. These farmers have invigorated both rural and urban markets for vegetable crops in their communities, making nutritious vegetables more widely available and affordable for millions of families each year.
"The awarding of the World Food Prize to a vegetable seedsman is reason for excitement and gratitude," Groot said. "But the ultimate recognition is for the millions of smallholder farmers that stepped up farming from a way of living to building a business. Small scale vegetable farming is a great way to grow rural income and employment and improve nutrition at the same time. Partnering modern science with a long tradition of Dutch seedsmanship has contributed mightily to the growth of the vegetable farming industry of tropical Asia in the last 35 years. Now it is the turn for tropical Africa where again quality vegetable seeds combined with major farmer knowledge transfer programs can create sustainable income for the next generation of African farmers."
When Groot started East-West Seed, commercial vegetable breeding was all but unknown in the tropics. Smallholder farmers struggled to grow a good crop with low-quality, poorly adapted seed that they often saved from season to season. Low-quality seed 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 achieve prosperity through diversification into high value vegetable crops.
After years of dedicated research and development, starting in the Philippines with business partner Benito Domingo, Groot introduced the first locally developed commercial vegetable hybrids in tropical Asia. These varieties were fast-growing, high-yielding and resistant to local diseases and stresses. Groot also realized that in order for farmers to maximize the value of these high-quality seeds, they needed training on improved vegetable cultivation. Working closely with local and international NGOs, Groot created East-West Seed's innovative Knowledge Transfer program--a unique feature for a seed company--which trains tens of thousands of farmers each year in good agricultural practices for vegetable production. As a result of better seeds and farming methods, farmers saw a dramatic increase in their profits, doubling or even tripling their incomes, and consumers found greater availability of these nutritious vegetables in their local markets.
Dr. Louise Fresco, president of Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, said, "Notwithstanding his wide international experience with political leaders in the entire world, Simon Groot has remained a modest man. The expression that characterizes him most is: 'Seeing big smiles on faces of farmers has given me tremendous satisfaction.' Those are words that Dr. Borlaug himself could have pronounced. Both men share an extraordinary vision and dedication. I am convinced that Dr. Borlaug would have been impressed by the stamina and vision of Simon Groot, and would have shared his conviction that food security must entail not only calories but also nutritional qualities through vegetables."
Groot will receive the World Food Prize Oct. 17, 2019, at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, Iowa.
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