World Food Prize Foundation President Kenneth Quinn announced Monday, in a ceremony at the State Department, that Simon Groot, a Dutch vegetable breeder who developed seeds that have benefited farmers and consumers in Southeast Asia, has been chosen as the 2019 World Food Prize laureate.
Groot will accept the $250,000 prize on Oct. 17 at the Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, where the World Food Prize is headquartered during the weeklong Borlaug Dialogue — named for Norman Borlaug, the developer of the wheat that led to the Green Revolution and the founder of the prize.
Quinn introduced the event’s host, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Republican Kansas House member, as “the man who has returned the swagger to the State Department.”
In short remarks, Pompeo said it is hard to predict world events and therefore the world must rely on innovation to solve problems. He noted that “the majority” of the world’s hungry at the present are in conflict zones, and highlighted Venezuela as one of the countries experiencing hunger due to internal discord. But he also said that innovations such as those developed by Groot are the keys to finding a “cure” for a world hunger.
Quinn told the agriculture leaders who attended the event in the Benjamin Franklin reception room atop the State Department that Groot left the Netherlands in 1982 at age 47 to move to the Philippines. There he and a business partner, Benito Domingo, formed East-West Seed to develop vegetable varieties with enhanced disease resistance and significantly higher yields. At that time, commercial vegetable seed breeding was all but unknown in the tropics.
“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,” Quinn said. “Mr. Groot in effect developed a stunningly impactful global network of seed producers who are transforming the lives of 20 million farmers every year.”
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Today East-West Seed serves more than 20 million smallholder farmers in more than 60 tropical countries, the World Food Prize Foundation said in a news release.
“Working closely with local and international NGOs, Mr. 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,” the foundation added.
“Mr. Groot has led the transition of millions of subsistence farmers, many of them women, to horticulture entrepreneurs, thereby greatly enhancing their livelihoods and income,” the foundation said.
“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.”
In a news release, Henne Schuwer, ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States, noted that his country “is the second-largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, behind only the United States. I hope this award will serve as an encouragement to further strengthen the relationship between our two countries in the field of agriculture.”
“Mr. Groot has truly shown the world what can be achieved when agricultural industry places the needs of smallholder farmers at the heart of their business,” Schuwer said.
“The awarding of the World Food Prize to a vegetable seedsman is reason for excitement and gratitude,” Groot said in the release.
“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.”
Earlier, the Access to Seeds Foundation, a Dutch group, awarded Groot and East-West Seed its top prize for making its products available to smallholder farmers.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at email@example.com
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