Dutch seed specialist Simon N. Groot on Monday was named the 2019 World Food Prize laureate for decades of work creating and promoting disease-resistant vegetable strains for the developing world.
Officials said Mr. Groot’s work helped small-stakes farmers in more than 60 countries to boost vegetable production and earn more for their crops. His work also provided access to better-quality vegetables for millions of consumers.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presided over Monday’s announcement ceremony at the State Department. Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, announced Mr. Groot as the 2019 recipient.
“With [Mr. Groot’s] partner in the Philippines, he began developing vegetable varieties with enhanced disease resistance and significantly higher yields,” Mr. Quinn said during the ceremony. Mr. Groot “in effect developed a stunningly impactful global network of seed producers who are transforming the lives of 20 million farmers every year.”
The sixth-generation scion of a famous Dutch seed-developing family, Mr. Groot founded East-West Seed in the Philippines in 1982, with the idea that better seeds could improve the lives of the poor throughout Southeast Asia.
Together with his business partner, Benito Domingo, Mr. Groot produced the first locally developed commercial vegetable hybrid in Southeast Asia, the bitter gourd, now a familiar vegetable throughout Asia. Other varieties soon followed, including sweet corn, tropical pumpkin, cucumber, tomato, watermelon and eggplant.
The increased yields and quality of vegetables allowed farmers to double and sometimes triple their income, according to the World Food Prize Foundation, which oversaw the award nominations.
Mr. Groot also started an influential knowledge transfer program to train farmers to maximize the potential of their seeds through practical skills and new technologies.
“You have to share your knowledge if you want to make the world better,” Mr. Groot said in a statement.
Every year, the Knowledge Transfer program trains more than 56,000 farmers in eight countries in Asia and Africa, producing crop guides in local languages with instructions for all education levels.
“I did not know which fertilizer to use,” said Salimu Tamimu, a Tanzanian farmer who spoke with the World Food Prize Foundation. “I now know the importance of good seed variety selection, planting with the right spacing, and when to apply fertilizer on my crops.”
The World Food Prize was established in 1986 by famed agronomist Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. Dr. Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in wheat production which prevented global famine and ushered in the Green Revolution.
Dr. Borlaug’s food prize later became known as “The Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.”
Past winners of the award include Bangladeshi micro-finance pioneer Muhammad Yunus and former Sens. Bob Dole and George McGovern, who shared the 2008 prize for their work on global child nutrition programs.
Mr. Groot will receive the World Food Prize and $250,000 in October at a ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa, where the foundation is located.