THE HAGUE—Simon N. Groot, the World Food Prize Laureate 2019, credited the Philippines for the phenomenal success of his company East-West Seed (EWS), one of the world’s leading tropical vegetable companies.
Groot started East-West Seed in the Philippines in 1982 with Filipino seed trader Benito M. Domingo and the support of the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. Their mission was to improve the income of farmers through access to high-quality vegetable seeds. A team of breeders from the Netherland’s Wageningen University and the University of the Philippines Los Banos started hybrid vegetable varieties.
Groot is a 6th generation descendant of the family that laid the foundation of the Dutch vegetable seed industry.
“I was looking for a place where I can start a seed business,” Groot told Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya during a call at the Philippine Embassy. “And I found the talent at the UPLB, and there was also no difficulty in conversing with Filipino farmers as most spoke English. I will always remember the long history of connecting with the Philippines, and the unique innovation tools for the Filipino farmers.”
A market leader with over 4,000 employees worldwide and with global headquarters in Enkhuizen (The Netherlands) and Bangkok, the company has expanded from Southeast Asia to India, China, Africa and South America. It has 10 seed processing facilities in seven countries and 14 research and development (R&D) centers in six countries, including three in the Philippines. The R&D centers in the Philippines are in Bukidnon, San Juan (Batangas) and Lipa (also in Batangas), where its first-ever experimental farm, the Hortanova farm, is located.
The company started on a five-hectare farm in Lipa where they produce high-yielding varieties of local crops which are resistant to diseases, such as ampalaya (bitter gourd), upo (bottle gourd), talong (eggplant), kalabasa (squash) and kangkong (spinach). The sinta papaya variety from the Philippines, with its bright yellow flesh, among many other varieties, has been exported to and gaining ground in South America.
“I am the greatest Philippine fan in Holland,” Groot said. “If there is any need of support, I am happy to help.”
Ambassador Malaya expressed appreciation for Groot for his thoughtfulness and his hard work and extraordinary passion in raising the productivity and incomes of farmers not only in the Philippines but in other tropical countries.
In 2015, the company set up Knowledge Transfer, a foundation that seeks to increase the income of smallholder vegetable farmers by sharing the knowledge and skills needed to improve their productivity.
The University of the Philippines Los Banos conferred to Groot the degree of “Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa” in 2019. In the same year, he was awarded in the U.S. the World Food Prize, the “Nobel Prize for Food,” the first Dutch person to have received it. The award was created in 1986 by agronomist `Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
Groot was accompanied by Maaike Groot, EWS Public Affairs Manager and Supervisory Board Member and also Chairperson of Philippines Netherlands Business Council (PNBC).
The PNBC is a non-profit association established in 1994 in The Hague for the purpose of strengthening business and economic relations between the Philippines and The Netherlands.