DUTCH seed man Simon N Groot (pix) was awarded the World Food Prize Laureate.
The announcement was made at a ceremony at the US Department of Agriculture on June 10.
Groot won the award for empowering 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.
The prize honours Groot’s unparalleled achievements as the founder and leader of East-West Seed. His initiative over the past four decades helped develop a dynamic, smallholder-centric tropical vegetable seed industry, starting in Southeast Asia and spreading through Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
East-West Seed now serves over 20 million smallholder farmers in more than 60 tropical countries.
Commercial vegetable breeding was unknown in the tropics when Groot started East-West Seed in the Philippines with business partner Benito Domingo.
Through this partnership, Groot introduced the first locally developed commercial vegetable hybrids in tropical Asia. Groot also created East-West Seed’s innovative Knowledge Transfer programme which trains farmers in good agricultural practices for vegetable production.
“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.
“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,” said Groot.
The laureate also said with poor diet now topping smoking as a health hazard, the world must put good nutrition over empty calories, especially in emerging Asian economies.
Groot, an octogenarian whose family has cultivated seeds for hundreds of years also said the world must tackle malnutrition by boosting vegetable and crop varieties.