T he mission of East-West Seed is embodied in the story of Kong Sa Em, a 35 year-old farmer from Or Soeur village in Cambodia. She used to feed her family on a yearly income of USD 125, until she was selected as a target farmer by World Vision and East-West Seed. She then learned to grow chai sim, increasing her income in one crop cycle to USD 295. Encouraged by her success she expanded to producing cucumber, receiv- ing a net profit of USD 545 after about one month. She is now also growing multiple other vegetable crops. Em has drastically improved her living standards. Her increased income enabled her to build a small kitchen for her family and buy a motorcycle. Her community considers her as a key farmer, as she advises her neighbours on growing techniques. This is just one of many stories that illustrate the impact of improved seeds and cultivation techniques. Smallholder farm income is the backbone of small rural economies; when small- holder vegetable farmers in the tropics are supplied high quality seeds, that not only helps them to grow better crops, but also to realize higher yields. East-West Seed Company’s mission is just that; to increase the income of vegetable farmers, and promote the growth and quality of the tropical vegetable industry. East-West Seed is market leader for tropical vegetable seeds in Asia and expanding in Africa and Latin America. The private- ly-owned company has played a role in the development and improvement of tropical vegetable varieties in Southeast Asia and other tropical countries. When Dutch seedsman Simon Groot founded the company 35 years ago, he set out to improve the income of smallholder farmers in the tropics through high-qual- ity seeds. East-West Seed develops vegetable varieties that are adapted to tropical markets and growing conditions and generate increased yield and income for farmers. In addition, the company educates farmers and helps them to maximize their yield and income through better knowledge on vegetable production. “East-West Seed has always had a strong small farmer ori- entation, small farmers being the great majority of the mul- ti-million-hectare vegetable farming industry in Southeast Asia,” Groot says. “Farmer income growth results in market growth. Input suppliers like seed-suppliers in developing mar- kets are more dependent on long-term market growth than on short-term results.” Groot established the company in the Philippines in 1982, after he discovered that the modernization of plant breeding into hybrids had largely bypassed that part of the world, except for hybrid cabbage from Japan. Also, the local seed supplies of open pollinated varieties were of unstable quality, causing unpredict- ability for the farmers. Groot soon realized his two main objectives; the develop- ment of new hybrid varieties for the main fruit-vegetables for the tropics; and the stabilization of the new quality of OP crops (all leafy vegetables, green legume crops, onions and quite a few more) needed a local breeding facility and capacity. “I saw development potential over there,” says Groot. “There was only a small market yet for vegetable seeds, farmers were saving their own seeds. The consumption of vegetables was high and was more profitable than agricultural crops. With our seeds, small farmers could produce more and have a higher income.” Recently awarded Best Multinational Company in Thailand, Groot states East-West Seed Company is not really a “multi- national” but a ‘multi-local’ company, building on local R&D centres, close cooperation with local universities and run by local management and staff. Simon Groot, now Chairman of the Supervisory Board, shares this vision with Bert van der Feltz, appointed as CEO in 2016. THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GROOT EAST-WEST SEED FOUNDER SEES THE VALUE IN HELPING SMALLHOLDER FARMERS IN ASIA, AFRICA, AND LATIN AMERICA. BY: MARCEL BRUINS 32 I EUROPEAN SEED I EUROPEAN-SEED.COM “East-West Seed has always had a strong small farmer orientation, small farmers being the great majority of the multi-million-hectare vegetable farming industry in Southeast Asia.” – Simon Groot “We try hard to be as ‘local’ as we can in everything we do but we are always striving for world class quality,” he says. “Farmers are the best judge; it takes several decades of build- ing up the trust of the majority of the farmers to become their favourite seedsman.” In addition to improving the genetic and physical quality of the seed, Groot says they have also supported farmers with infor- mation how to get the maximum benefit from improved seed. In most emerging markets, poor performance of smallholder farm- ers can be attributed to: • High rates of poverty • Lack of knowledge on the benefits of improved varieties • Poor cultivation techniques • Weak functioning of value chains • Lack of access to quality agri-inputs East-West Seed Company is a firm believer that in this chal- lenging environment, knowledge transfer is a precondition to Photo Duco de Vries