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Cooperation explains success of Dutch seed breeders

Each year, large shipments of tomato, cucumber and pepper seeds are being flown abroad. The Netherlands are the largest exporter of vegetable seeds. Of the ten largest vegetable seed companies in the world, most are headquartered in Holland. According to Chinese manager Zhen Liu, this is due to the unique fact that competing seed companies in the Netherlands tend to work together. Also helping: Wageningen UR has currently the largest international network of all plant institutes in the world.

Zhen Liu, now consultant in Beijing, recently got her PhD at Wageningen UR. In order to identify the driving forces behind the success of Dutch seed companies, she interviewed CEO’s and institutes. This way she came to know why the Dutch seed industry is so successful and also what needs to be done to make it the seed industry in China just as fruitful. 

"In China, it is difficult to organize cooperation," she says. "Since the government organizes everything. Many people struggle with the concept of competing companies setting up a cooperation at the same time. Here in the Netherlands seed companies organize themselves." As an example she gives the Wageningen biotechnology company Keygene, which now employs 130 workers. A few Dutch companies, including Enza Zaden and Rijk Zwaan founded it twenty years ago. Investing separately would be too expensive, but as shareholders they share the cost while keeping access to the most advanced techniques.

Cooperation and specialization is good for innovation, she concludes. "In China, there are now hundreds of institutes breeding tomatoes. Each region has one. But they compete for the same public funds. Only if you're very good friends with your colleagues, you will get starting material or information. With more specialization we can change this: institutes can focus on different tomatoes or vegetables.”


Source: WUR


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