The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

A Vegetable Revolution

By Simon Groot
2019 World Food Prize Laureate


When I first visited Southeast Asia many years ago, it pained me to see so many small farmers struggling to make a living. Commercial vegetable breeding was all but unknown in the tropics, and many farmers were having a hard time growing a good crop with the low-quality, poorly adapted seeds they often saved from season to season. Low-quality seeds resulted in low yields, which translated into poverty and malnutrition for farmers and their families.

Years later, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr.  Borlaug and was inspired by his Green Revolution. I felt strongly that we could create a second wave, this time based in Southeast Asia and focused on vegetables, an essential and affordable source of the kinds of micronutrients that prevent “hidden hunger.” This under-recognized public health epidemic, driven by heavy reliance on wheat and grain, increases mortality and causes severe health problems like stunted growth in children, reduced brain development, and diminished economic and social progress.

Having grown up in the seed business, I knew firsthand the value of high-quality seeds and what they could mean for these farmers, their families, and their communities. I saw two steps that could help to break this vicious cycle of malnutrition and poverty: First, provide quality, high-value seeds so local farmers could diversify into vegetable crops, and, second, develop a strong program of knowledge transfer and education.

This idea became another “Green Revolution,” building on Dr. Borlaug’s inspiring vision. An idea is just like a seed—starting with good quality helps, but both need careful attention and nurturing, day in and day out, to flourish. This kind of commitment also requires trust. Farmers trust that the seeds they plant will not only feed their families, but also provide their livelihood. Understanding this deep emotional connection is critical to carrying out our mission of improving nutrition and creating economic opportunity for small farmer communities.

Small farmers produce 85 percent of the world’s food, making them the most important group in the push to improve global food security. What’s more, 88 percent of these small farmers are located in the tropical parts of Asia and Africa, and are responsible for meeting the food demands of a growing and rapidly urbanizing population throughout the global south. In this context, helping smallholder farmers increase their productivity, income, and resilience to climate change is critical for ensuring global food security, nutrition, and health. The seed of this idea was planted firmly in my mind all those years ago, and the evidence supporting it has only mounted since.

After 37 years of pursuing this mission, being named the 2019 World Food Prize Laureate is as humbling as it is exciting for a Dutch seedsman. More importantly, however, the award honors the millions of small farmers who have successfully moved from farming for survival to building sustainable businesses for themselves and their communities. When I started East-West Seed Company, I believed that small scale vegetable farming could be an innovative way to grow rural income and employment while improving nutrition. But the hard work and dedication of these farmers has made this vision a reality.

Pairing modern science with a long tradition of Dutch seedsmanship has contributed mightily to the growth of the vegetable farming industry across tropical Asia over the last 37 years. Now, we are turning our attention to helping Africa reap the same benefits. By providing both quality vegetable seeds and knowledge transfer programs, we can create sustainable income and improved nutrition for the next generation of African farmers.

More than 20 million farmers have given us their trust over the past 37 years. Seeing their smiles after a successful harvest is the only award I need. For that reason, I dedicate this World Food Prize to them.

06/17/2019 8:00 AM |Add a comment |Comments (3)
Excellent contribution

UDAY PRATAP SINGH | | 06/25/2019 1:02 AM
Commitment is the only way to achieving great things in life.

Charles Gregory | | 06/19/2019 3:56 AM
Excellent work and very well intentional, which must be translated into great benefits for all


Julian Bran Calle | | 06/18/2019 4:32 AM
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