‘Watermelon King’ dies

Staff writer, with CNA

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 - Page 4

Chen Wen-yu (陳文郁), supplier of nearly 25 percent of the world’s watermelon seeds, died on Dec. 7 at the age of 88.

A funeral service for Chen, who developed the world’s first seedless watermelon in 1962, is scheduled to be held tomorrow in Greater Kaohsiung.

Chen earned the name the “Watermelon King” because he produced more than 200 varieties of watermelons during his 44-plus years in the business.

“My goal is to create the world’s most delicious watermelon,” he once said. “If you taste such a watermelon, you will not seek other watermelons.”

Born and raised in a rural village in Tainan’s Yongkang District (永康), Chen was very aware of the hardship farmers experienced and decided when he was 14 that he would study agricultural technology to help improve farmers’ lives.

With funding from the US Agency for International Development, he pursued advanced studies in horticulture at Chiba University in Japan. He later returned to Taiwan and founded the Kaohsiung-based Known-You Seed Co with his friends in 1968.

The name “Known-You” can be transliterated as “friends of farmers” in Mandarin.

Chen’s company focuses on developing new varieties of watermelon seeds, but has also created more than 500 new vegetable and flower varieties.

“It takes good seedlings to produce good varieties. We provide farmers with good seeds to help them reap better harvests,” he said.

These seeds “are provided to farmers in Taiwan and around the world,” the company said in a statement after Chen’s death.

The company has a seedling farm in the US and branch offices in China, India and several Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Thailand.

Chen also set up a foundation to help improve local farmers’ welfare and funded the establishment of a hospital in Myanmar to provide free medical services for farmers there.

In recognition of Chen’s contributions to agriculture and farmers’ welfare, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) last year conferred on him the Order of Brilliant Star with Violet Grand Cordon.

Chen was also featured on the Discovery Channel in 2006 as one of six most influential Taiwanese.