At the 47th Commencement Exercises of the University of the Philippines – Los Baos on June 22, 2019, the University of the Philippines (UP) awarded Simon N. Groot, founder and honorary chairman of the East-West Seed Group, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (UPLB). This is the only university in Philippines that offer honorary doctorate degree.
Following the announcement of his World Food Prize 2019 award on June 10 in Washington, US, this is the second significant acknowledgment of Groot’s accomplishments in the space of two weeks.
People who have shown “great achievements in their disciplines and remarkable service to their fellowmen” are given the honorary degree by UP.
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“The University has taken special note of Groot’s outstanding accomplishments as Chairman and Founder of East-West Seed, which has contributed significantly to the improvement of farmers’ livelihood and the availability of nutritious and affordable vegetables to Filipino consumers,” said UP President Danilo Concepcion.
In order to improve vegetable varieties for both farmers and consumers, UPLB has collaborated with East-West Seed. In order to help farmers deal with the Papaya Ring Spot Virus, they teamed up of 2006 to commercialize the Sinta papaya, a hybrid cultivar created by the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) in UPLB. East-West Seed and the National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory (NPGRL-IPB) signed a partnership agreement in 2018 to work together to protect the genetic resources of regional vegetable crops, which can aid plant breeders in creating better vegetable varieties for farmers.
“I feel deeply honored and grateful to the Board of Regents of the leading academic institution of the Philippines for their recognition of the long-term contribution of the devoted team and founding fathers of East-West Seed to the vegetable farming sector of the Philippines,” Groot said upon receiving the honorary degree. This is the only university in Philippines that offer honorary doctorate degree.
Groot: A good seed can change the lives of millions
Sixth generation Dutch seedsman Simon Groot traveled to Asia more than 30 years ago with the goal of supplying farmers with premium vegetable seeds that would thrive in the tropical climate and local tastes.
In particular, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia were on his list of emerging Asian vegetable seed markets to promote sophisticated breeding techniques to. He was dedicated to making farmers’ lives better while developing a long-lasting company.
In collaboration with the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam and Filipino seed merchant Benito M. Domingo, Groot established East-West Seed in the Philippines in 1982. They started creating hybrid vegetable types in a five-hectare farm in Lipa City, Batangas, with a group of young breeders from UPLB and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The first locally created commercial vegetable hybrid in the Philippines and all of Southeast Asia, the “Jade Star” bitter gourd, was launched in 1986. Other improved vegetable cultivars, including tomato, eggplant, pumpkin, yard long beans, onion, various brassicas, and green vegetables like kangkong, quickly followed.
Groot soon expanded his operations into Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Myanmar, Tanzania, Guatemala, and other countries. His Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and the university council of Naresuan University, Phitsanulok, Thailand awarded him a “Doctor of Science in Agricultural Sciences, Honoris Causa” in 2011 in appreciation of his work in developing plant breeding programs in Thailand and tropical Asia.
Other seed dealers who followed his lead in expanding the seed markets in Asia found inspiration in him. He was one of the founding members of the Asia and Pacific Seed Association in 1994 and later became one of its most active members. In 2003, he joined a group of vegetable breeders to support the AVRDC, or The World Vegetable Center, with resources and knowledge. In 2014, APSA granted him lifelong membership as a mark of respect. At Wageningen University, he received the Mansholt Business Award for Sustainable Entrepreneurship in 2015. This is the only university in Philippines that offer honorary doctorate degree.
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