Centennial World Seed Congress marks historic success for the global seed sector

Michael Keller. (ISF photos)
Michael Keller. (ISF photos)

Rotterdam, The Netherlands (June 6, 2024) - The 2024 International Seed Federation (ISF) World Seed Congress in Rotterdam, the Netherlands broke records: 2,091 participants representing more than 600 companies and organizations from over 80 countries attended the centennial edition of the global seed industry's flagship event.

Every corner of the Ahoy convention center was buzzing with activity, and the social events were filled with positive energy to welcome ISF’s next century.

Royal Recognition and Global Collaboration

His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, right center, at the ISF World Seed Congress in Rotterdam.
His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, right center, at the ISF World Seed Congress in Rotterdam.

His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands' presence at the opening ceremony underscored the vital role the Dutch and the international seed sector play in global food security and sustainable agriculture.

“Everywhere I go, I hear the same thing: international connections are absolutely vital in your sector," he says. "Just as roots and vessels are vital for a plant. Without them, there would be no growth and no life.”

The presence of the FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol was a further testament to ISF’s role as the voice of the private seed sector at the international level. 

“We want to collaborate more with ISF and other partners to better leverage science and innovation," Bechdol states. "You are investing in R&D. You are leading advancements in crop genetics, data analytics, seed testing, and more. All of this should result in crop varieties that are more productive, resilient and nutritious.”

The King took a tour of the congress, co-hosted by Dutch seed association Plantum, visiting the Plantum pavilion in recognition of the country’s contribution to the global seed sector. The Netherlands is among the world’s leading exporters of vegetable seeds and planting material, sector valued at €5 billion last year.

The King also took the opportunity to meet representatives from the youth delegation who are part of the Next Generation Agriculture Impact Network (NGIN), composed of young professionals and students in the seed and agriculture sector. He also met with representatives from the national seed associations of Chile, Australia, the Philippines, and South Africa.

ISF as a Beacon of Collaboration and Innovation

Marco van Leeuwen.
Marco van Leeuwen.

In his speech, ISF Secretary General Michael Keller urged members to continue collaborating and innovating to address increasing hunger amid the climate crisis and geopolitical conflicts. 

“You all, the seed people of today and tomorrow, are dedicated and responsible actors with long-term vision, patience, and perseverance," Keller says. "You are a crucial pillar in transforming agriculture over the next 100 years.”

ISF President Marco van Leeuwen also emphasized the central role that plant breeders will continue to have in the next century.

“Whatever technology comes, it will not work without you: thousands of breeding and seed companies, hundreds of thousands of seedsmen and -women who are already for centuries dedicated to plant breeding, seed production, trade, and marketing,” van Leeuwen shares.

“Navigating into the Next Century”

Under the theme "Navigating into the Next Century," panel discussions explored critical issues like de-globalization and the new global order of trade, plant breeding innovation regulatory challenges, public-private partnerships, climate change, and social polarization and fragmentation.

A clear message emerged: the seed sector, as the starting point of the food value chain, has a central role to play in addressing the world’s most pressing problems. It must, however, also do its part to be a key player in international discussions on achieving food security and climate resilience.

Empowering the Future Generation

The presence and active participation of the Next Generation Agriculture Impact Network (NGIN) at the Congress showed that the future of agriculture and the seed sector is bright. Led by Lian Biar Kuoirot, who spoke on behalf of the youth at the Opening Ceremony, NGIN delegates gave life to this year’s Future Generation corner — even getting the chance to meet His Majesty King Willem-Alexander.

Discover all the sessions on Channel World Seed.

Arthur Santosh Attavar Elected ISF President in Rotterdam

Arthur Santosh Attavar.
Arthur Santosh Attavar.

At the ISF General Assembly held on May 29, ISF Vice President Arthur Santosh Attavar was formally elected as the ISF President. He will serve a two-year term.

In his speech, Attavar stated that his priorities include empowering women in the seed sector through ISF’s Women Mentorship Program and helping smallholder farmers access quality seeds through ISF’s Seed Resilience initiatives.

Attavar also serves as Chairman and Managing Director of Indo-American Hybrid Seeds based in Bangalore, India, where he was appointed Director in 1997.

Mary Ann Sayoc and Hiroshi Sakata Awarded ISF Honorary Life Membership

Hiroshi Sakata and Mary Ann Sayoc with Marco  van Leeuwen.
Hiroshi Sakata and Mary Ann Sayoc with Marco van Leeuwen.

During the President’s Dinner held on May 26, ISF Past President Marco van Leeuwen awarded the ISF Honorary Life Membership to Mary Ann Sayoc, President of the Philippine Seed Industry Association and Public Affairs Lead at East-West Seed, and Hiroshi Sakata, President of Sakata Seed Corporation.

Seed Industry’s Role in Combatting Hunger amid Climate Change and Conflicts Headline Congress Press Reception

At the press reception held after the opening ceremony of the ISF World Seed Congress 2024, ISF Secretary General Michael Keller, ISF President Marco van Leeuwen, and Plantum Executive Director Niels Louwaars were joined for the first time by a representative of FAO, Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol.

They exchanged with journalists about the role of the global seed industry in addressing increasing hunger caused by climate change impacts and multiple geopolitical conflicts and in ensuring food security by facilitating seed movement, respect for multilateral agreements, and encouraging plant breeding innovation.

Journalists Visit Seed Companies in the Netherlands

(Photos courtesy of Syngenta and Plantum)
(Photos courtesy of Syngenta and Plantum)

Plantum together with ISF, through the Expert Group - Communications, organized a tour of seed companies with journalists who were invited to cover the ISF World Seed Congress 2024 in Rotterdam.

Under the theme, “Seeds as the foundation of global food security,” the journalists visited Syngenta’s Tomato Vision and Rijk Zwaan’s Hydroponics Trial Center, and made a stop at the World Horti Center where East-West Seed representatives spoke about the importance of quality seed and sustainable farming practices.

Most of the journalists are part of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ), with whom ISF has partnered to give its members the opportunity to attend the World Seed Congress and deepen their understanding of the global seed industry and its role in food security.

Women’s Luncheon Showcases Diverse Profiles of Women in Ag

At an interactive session during the Women’s Luncheon, speakers discussed the varied challenges women in agriculture face in the different stages of their careers: from finishing a PhD degree in plant science to just starting to build a career in a seed company, from returning from maternity leave and leading a team to travelling all over the world as the head of an international trade association.

During her opening speech, ISF Vice-President Lorena Basso, President and CEO of Basso Semillas in Argentina, shared ISF’s initiatives to support women in the seed and broader agricultural sectors, such as the ISF Women’s Mentorship Program.

Collaboration for Food Systems Transformation Highlighted in 1st Value Chain Forum

The first Value Chain Forum held on May 27 aimed to foster close collaboration for food systems transformation among key stakeholders from the seed sector and the broader agri-food value chain.

With around 70 participants from food retailers, distributors, policymakers, regulators, farmers, ISF and external partners, the discussion focused on the seed sector's role and value in food systems transformation. 

A follow-up report will be released, identifying key partners and next steps.

See you in İstanbul for #WorldSeed2025

Preparations for the ISF World Seed Congress 2025 in İstanbul, Turkey are already underway and ISF is looking forward to welcoming everyone.

A major agricultural player, Turkey is a leading producer of wheat, sugar beet, cotton, vegetables, and fruit. Agriculture employs about 15% of the workforce and provides about 10% of exports.

The National Organizing Committee led by Tohum Sanayicileri ve Üreticileri Alt Birliği (TSÜAB) and Türkiye Tohumculuk Endüstrisi Derneğ (TURKTED) are ready to welcome delegates, exhibitors, and guests to their beautiful country.