The University Fund Wageningen has awarded the Mansholt Business Award for Sustainable Entrepreneurship (M-BASE) 2015 to Simon Groot of East-West Seed. Under his leadership the company has developed a market for vegetable seeds in South East Asia with the result that small local farmers can now produce and earn more. Groot stimulates knowledge sharing, and the company regularly collaborates with researchers in Wageningen. The prize was presented on Monday 7 September 2015 during the opening of the Wageningen UR academic year.
“Long before there was any talk of public-private partnerships or relationships between trade and development cooperation in the Netherlands, Simon Groot and his company East-West Seed were already demonstrating how this could be put into practice,” according to the jury. “Groot is therefore an example of how the Netherlands and companies can contribute to development in a sustainable and commercial way.” For example, East-West Seed is now participating in Tanzania, together with Wageningen UR and plant breeding company Rijk Zwaan, in the public-private partnership SEVIA (Seeds of Expertise for the Vegetable Sector of Africa) to enhance vegetable seed and cultivation: good for farmers’ incomes and for feeding the growing numbers of city dwellers. Since 2000, East-West Seed has participated in five other public-private partnership projects.
Simon Groot (80) studied economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam and as a young man worked for a company that produced vegetable seeds for market gardeners. Being an international seed merchant, he travelled over the whole world. When the company he worked for was sold in 1980, he decided to invest his capital, knowledge and experience in helping small farmers in South East Asia. “I saw development potential there,” Groot said. “At the time there wasn’t a market for vegetable seed, as farmers bred their own. And another thing: vegetables were eaten in large quantities and were more profitable than agricultural crops. Small farmers would be able to produce and earn more with our seed, and economic development would be stimulated.” In this way he linked the local need for good vegetable seed and cultivation in ‘the East’ with know-how and experience in ‘the West’.
As a result of Groot’s leadership, East-West Seed has become an important tropical vegetable breeding company in South East Asia, with 4000 employees and 12 R&D stations in 7 countries. Groot himself at present chairs the Supervisory Board. The company reinvests most of its profits in expansion and in offering more crop types in order to take East-West Seed’s mission into other parts of Asia and also, more recently, into East Africa and Latin America. “East-West Seed is therefore a splendid example of how you can allow your company to grow in a sustainable way whilst having a positive impact on local farmers and the country itself,” the jury concluded.
Groot is a great believer in sharing know-how. For example, in Asia and Africa farmers receive advice about the best cultivation methods, and farm workers are given training. Groot: “This increases both your own market share and the farmers’ incomes’. You have to share your knowledge if you want to make the world better.” He also used to be active in the International Seed Federation and was the driving force behind the Asia and Pacific Association (APSA), the largest association of national, regional and international seed companies. Wageningen UR’s involvement in public-private partnerships, such as SEVIA, and in educating plant breeders, means it occupies a very valuable role in developing horticulture worldwide, Groot believes.
Mansholt Business Award
The University Fund Wageningen aims to stimulate and reward successful and sustainable entrepreneurship. The Fund therefore awards the Mansholt Business Award for Sustainable Entrepreneurship once every three years. The award is named after former Dutch Minister of Agriculture and European Commissioner Sicco Mansholt. The recipients, entrepreneurial alumni from Wageningen University or entrepreneurs who collaborate with Wageningen UR, have a sustainable and social impact either nationally or internationally. The prize consists of a sum of money (€25,000) and a sculpture.
The University Fund Wageningen
The University Fund Wageningen maintains contacts with alumni, manages various funds which support Wageningen UR students and employees, and raises the financial means to do this. The foundation was set up recently and combines the KLV alumni association, the Wageningen University Fund and the Wageningen University Alumni Office. The new foundation will ensure that activities relating to alumni contact and fundraising are better coordinated. It will also give the collaborating organisations more capabilities.