Alliance & FAO Borlaug Dialogue Side Event: World Food Prize Laureate Calls for Quality Seeds for Healthy and Sustainable Diets

October 20, 2019

This article was originally published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on October 16, 2019. Republished with permission. The original post can be found here.

“There can be no nutrition and food security without access to quality seeds for the world’s smallholders,” stated Vimlendra Sharan, Director of FAO North America during his opening remarks at a breakout session held during the 2019 Borlaug Dialogue on World Food Day.  Over 1000 participants attended the four-day Dialogue, which was under the theme ‘Peace through Agriculture,’ and addressed the intersectionality of food security, conflict, and development.

Participants from the October 16 Alliance to End Hunger and FAO side event at the 2019 World Food Prize. (Courtesy: FAO).

The breakout session, ‘Systems for Change: Seeds and Vegetables to Transform Smallholder Agriculture for Global Food and Nutrition Security,’ co-hosted by FAO North America and the Alliance to End Hunger, highlighted the importance of quality seeds for the smallholder farmers. The event attracted over 115 participants to hear from the 2019 World Food Prize Laureate Simon Groot and the distinguished panel.

“Two billion people lack access to sufficient and nutritious food, so as seed sector we have to do our part. My philosophy is simple – put farmers first, especially smallholder farmers which make up the majority of farmers in the world. Farmers hate lousy seeds, and need access to vegetable varieties with enhanced disease resistance and higher yields,” Simon Groot underlined in his keynote address.

Simon Groot from the Netherlands received the 2019 World Food Prize for his transformative role in empowering millions of smallholder farmers in over 60 countries to earn greater incomes through enhanced vegetable production, and enabling millions of consumers to get access to nutritious vegetables for healthy diets. Groot, a sixth-generation seedsman, founded East-West Seed in 1982 as the first market-oriented vegetable seeds breeding company with smallholders as the main client base.

“As the 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report has shown, there is an alarming trend of obesity in adults and children around the world. We need to stress the need for higher quality diets,” emphasized David Beckmann, 2010 World Food Prize Laureate and President of the Alliance to End Hunger. Beckmann reiterated the 2019 World Food Day call for action under the theme, ‘Our Actions are Our Future, Healthy Diets for a Zero Hunger World.’

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, noted the central role of Norman Borlaug in addressing global hunger. “Borlaug could not have achieved his work on reducing hunger from Mexico to India without FAO, as he was working as a consultant for the UN,” he noted.

The opening remarks and the keynote address was followed by a panel of experts, who shared their extensive experience of issues related to the seed industry in a discussion moderated by Rob Bertram, Chief Scientist of US Agency for International Development Bureau for Food Security.

Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, Board Member of the World Vegetable Center, emphasized that many farmers in Zimbabwe still do not have access to affordable quality seeds. “Productivity, climate-smart production and nutrition quality are important aspects of quality seeds,” she added.

Josephine Okot, Managing Director of Victoria Seeds Ltd., stressed the need for drought tolerance seeds, a well-developed value chain, and output markets. Victoria Seeds Ltd. was established in Uganda in 2004 to deliver quality seeds to smallholder farmers.

Ann Tutwiler, Chair of the Access to Seeds Foundation, presented the new Access to Seeds Index, which compares the efforts of seed companies to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers. “In West Africa, there are over 100 seed companies; however, they sell old varieties, and there are few extension services,” said Tutwiler.

“In order to tackle the multiple burden of malnutrition, the long-term solution is to diversify diets and enable people to eat more fruits and vegetables,” underscored Dr. Marco Ferroni, Chair of the CGIAR System Management Board.

FAO was also recognized during the World Food Prize Laureate Ceremony, with FAO North America Director Vimlendra Sharan joining the dignitaries in the investiture parade leading the laureate, Simon N. Groot, to the ceremony. The event was live-streamed and broadcasted on Iowa Public Television.

One notable FAO project in the last decade in Central America utilized the formation of seed-growers’ cooperatives to improve the accessibility of training and to unite the voices of seed growers addressing government regulators. Connecting the informal seed sector with national agricultural research centers, public seed authorities, and local markets led to the creation of 29 local businesses that now supply improved seeds to farmers. At the end of the project, these suppliers across Central America doubled the sale of high quality seeds which in turn on average doubled the yield for farmers that planted improved bean and maize seeds created with the help of improved government oversight, increased access to university research and extension, and a more united seed growing network.