NEED TO KNOW / July 2019

Moving Seeds

It has been focusing on the development of smallholder farmers in Southeast Asia through the availability of high-quality vegetable seeds since 1982. The company currently has 14 research and development facilities in six countries and exports seeds to more than 60 others in tropical parts of the world. Managing director, Glenn Pardede, recently spoke with GlobeAsia about his business philosophy and the company’s plans.

As a major player in the horticulture industry, East-West Seed Indonesia has taken steps to ensure it stays ahead of the competition. “We are very lucky to be operating in Indonesia, not only because it is one of the countries with the largest biodiversity in the world, but also because it is a nation with a large workforce and ample natural resources,” Glenn said. The company has invested large efforts in research and educating farmers to attain the best yields from their fields. East-West Seed Indonesia’s research resulted in several strains of plants that have increased disease resistance and require less water. The company’s urban-farmer initiative, aimed at encouraging farming in cities, has meanwhile also gained traction. The program was initiated to help residents of metropolitan areas cultivate their own vegetable gardens. The program has been one of the most successful so far in educating people on farming, which also helped the company reach a larger market.

While East-West Seed Indonesia has been successful in maintaining its lead in the industry, it has yet to reach its peak potential as one of the world’s largest producers of agricultural products. “Despite all the potential that exists in the country, Indonesia’s horticulture industry is still lacking,” Glenn said. “The nation’s agricultural focus remains on products such as rice, while we at East-West Seed Indonesia are focused on vegetables.” The company’s efforts to diversify the nation’s agricultural products to include vegetable crops has met with some success. Indonesia has been increasing its vegetable production by 6 percent annually over the past three decades. The incentive to cultivate fresh produce can be seen in local markets, where vegetable prices have been relatively stable. “I think this factor, along with our core value of helping the farmer, will attract more consumers to buy our products,” Glenn said. Another problem the company faces is how to eliminate diseases that affect produce due to the country’s tropical climate. “As tropical vegetables are more prone to disease, most of our efforts have gone into research and development of modified crops that are less susceptible to complications and water shortages,” he said.

To embrace advances in the digital era, the company has made several efforts to ensure that there is a next generation of farmers ready to take over from the current generation. “We have been embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution and adding machine learning and artificial intelligence to our daily operations,” Glenn said. “We also hire younger farmers to kick our operations into high gear and implement initiatives to distribute our products to markets that we previously thought were out of reach.” With the transition to a younger workforce, the company has also developed a new online distribution system. East-West Seed Indonesia has further also developed its own smartphone application, known as Sipindo, or the Indonesian Agricultural Information System, to assist farmers. The app informs the farmer of recommended soil nutrients based on laboratory tests, what fertilizer to use for optimal results and provides data on weather patterns. “As the market leader in vegetable seed distribution, we must lead efforts to change the way we farm,” Glenn said. The company is also embracing a growing community of urban farmers who cultivate their own produce in the limited space available in large cities. “I believe there is huge potential in urban farming, and as Indonesia’s cities further expand, space for farmers to grow the food necessary to sustain the people becomes more limited,” he said. “With the residents of metropolitan areas becoming more interested in producing their own crops, the problem will slowly be eliminated.”