Photo credit: East West Seeds

Simon Groot, from the Netherlands, has been announced as the 2019 World Food Prize Laureate for his unparalleled contribution to significantly enhancing the livelihoods and incomes of the smallholders. Groot and his business partner, Benito Domingo, began East-West Seeds in the Philippines, a venture focused on the development of high-quality vegetable seed varieties that can help farmers earn higher incomes. Since the program’s inception, these varieties have spread across Southeast Asia, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In addition to helping farmers earn more for their produce, East-West Seeds also benefits local consumers by providing increased access to nutritious vegetables. Over the past four decades, Groot’s initiative has helped develop the smallholder-centric tropical vegetable seed industry in 60 countries.

Smallholder farmers often cannot access modern inputs, including high quality seeds. This results in low yields, which exacerbates poverty and malnutrition among smallholder households. The improved seed varieties provided by East-West Seeds help farmers gain higher crop yields, giving them more produce to sell in the market. In addition, East-West Seed’s innovation knowledge transfer program works closely with local and international NGOs in focused areas to help farmers maximize their crop yields. The program has helped millions of smallholder farmers transition from subsistence to commercial farming and break the vicious cycle of poverty. Similarly, both rural and urban markets in targeted areas have been revitalized with increased amounts of affordable nutritious food. The initiative currently serves over 20 million smallholders, and future plans include efforts to enhance vegetable production in Africa’s tropical region and create a means of sustainable income for African farmers.

“…[T]he 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,” Groot said on receiving news about the award.

In a ceremony held at the U.S. Department of State, Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, made the public announcement of Groot’s award. Groot will receive the esteemed award at a ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa on October 17.

“Like Dr. Norman Borlaug before him, Simon N. Groot has dedicated his life to improving the livelihoods of millions around the world,” said Amb. Quinn. “Mr. Groot…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.”

Simon N. Groot’s initiative is an example that a lot can be achieved when the agricultural and food industry places the needs of the smallholders at the heart of its business.

Swati Malhotra is Communications Specialist for IFPRI's Markets, Trade and Institutions division.

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