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Simon Groot (East West Seed):
NL: Current Asian horticulture and the old Dutch horticulture similarThe term 'pioneer' is sometimes used too easily. But it can certainly be used on Simon de Groot, founder of East West Seed. Over 30 years ago he started a breeding company for tropical vegetables in the Philippines. Now it has grown with locations in various Asian countries to a business with 1600 employees, and which is a market leader.
Simon Groot took the plunge abroad in a time in which it was unusual, at the beginning of the 80's. "It was a combination of events. I had built up almost 30 years experience in plant breeding. I had had enough at the family company (Sluis en Groot, red.) and it was sold. During earlier trips through Asia I had discovered that the quality of the seeds in the tropics was far behind. With consequences for the locals, who had a difficult life anyway. As an expert in seeds, this troubled me. Call it idealism."
The parallels between the situation of the current Asian horticulture and the old Dutch horticulture are clearly visible. It used to be smaller in our country. That smallness, that's where the tropical countries still are. The area per business is small and there is a - slowly growing - low level of technology. The association degree is still low, although it's important as producers to stand against the trade. Farmers or horticulturists have no status in Asia. "Breeding close to your market is the the only useful thing you can do", says Groot.
"I tested my plan during a month long study trip in 1981. I then decided to start in the Philippines due to the good knowledge of the English language. This way I could easily collect the knowledge needed for my business. At that moment it was the most primitive country in South East Asia, horticulture-wise. People questioned my business course. I was lucky I found reliable partners quickly and managed to start."
CropsThe emphasis was (and is) on tropical crops, which are unknown, or barely known, in Holland. Such as the 'bitter gourd', a cucumber kind, which is known to Surinam as sopropo. Half a million hectares of it is planted in Asia; more than the total Dutch and Belgian vegetable area combined. A big success from the start was an improved type of long beans. Simon Groot: "We crossed a Thai variety with higher eating quality with a plant which people were used to in east Java in type and colour. Our new variety quickly became the favourite type of long bean in Indonesia." East West Seed also breeds tropical leafy vegetables, peppers, open ground cucumbers and (tropical) tomatoes.
EntrepreneurshipDue to his family situation Groot travelled from Holland instead of locating himself in Asia. "I was a long distance commuter. Seven weeks there, three weeks here and I did it for 25 years. During these trips I visited all locations. At that moment people there knew the Dutch reputation in seeding well. But, our products were hardly suitable for immediate use in tropical countries. The starting material we bought from nearby countries. Using field observations we identified the best properties and tried to combine them. The advanced analytical system that exists now, hadn't been invented back then."
His advice for the starting agribusiness entrepreneur in a less developed country: "Submerge yourself in the local market situation. See what Dutch agriculture and horticulture techniques can be used when adapted. Go back in time for this, to our old agrarian system. And try to export 'Holland 1960'. Don't make the mistake of trying to export 'Holland 2012'."
Source: Berichten Buitenland
Publication date: 4/2/2012
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