Simon Groot, vegetable seed breeder from Enkhuizen and winner of the World Food Prize, visited WUR recently. In meeting centre Impulse, he explained to the audience of 200 how his company East-West Seed grew to be the leading seed breeding company in South-East Asia.
Essential to Groot’s success was his company vision. East-West Seed aimed to develop vegetable seed in Indonesia, Thailand and The Philippines; countries that did not have any international seed breeding companies active in 1982. Groot’s primary mission was not to sell, but to do research: What vegetables was the local population eating? What plant characteristics needed improvement and what did the farmers want? ‘You need to know the farmers’ mindset and motivation,’ said Groot. ‘But they won’t give you this information, you need to find it out. Then you need to improve the vegetables and discuss the innovations with the farmers, to see how they feel about it.’
East-West Seed is now looking to establish itself in Africa. ‘Africa is on the verge of developing a vegetable seed market,’ said Groot. What are the main challenges in Africa? ‘Farmers lack knowledge on growing vegetables. In addition, they are faced with depleted soils.’ However, Groot sees opportunities to develop strains of crops such as tomatoes and okra in Africa.