Biotech #FoodHeroes: Alexandre Lima Nepomuceno

Alexandre Lima Nepomuceno

Since he was a kid, Alexandre Nepomuceno has loved farm life and culture. He comes from a farming family, and it was “fun” to him. But it also meant that he saw first-hand what happened when Brazilian farmers were denied access to genetically modified (GM) crops due to a legal dispute that barred their use.

This ban had a huge negative impact on the farmers there, as well as consumers, since GM crops can have a positive benefit on the environment, farmer livelihoods, and result in lower food prices for consumers. With challenges like climate change that can cause more frequent flooding, droughts, and extreme temperatures, biotech crops are one tool in the toolbox to help mitigate losses in productivity and ensure sustainability.

To ensure that situation isn’t repeated, Nepomuceno served on the Brazilian Biosafety Commission and helped in the adoption of a science-based approach to regulating GM — and now gene-edited — crops.

“As climate change scenarios create more frequent flooding, droughts and extreme temperatures, biotechnology will be one of the most important tools to help mitigate losses in productivity.”

Science is foundational to Nepomuceno. As principal investigator at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), he develops technological innovations aimed at making farming sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change. “Our big challenge in the next decades will be to use even more technological tools in agriculture,” he predicts. “Plant biotechnology will be one of the most important.”

Nepomuceno envisions a future where plant breeding will converge with artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoT (internet of things), and other innovative tools to enhance agriculture’s efficiency and yield. He credits technology with helping Brazil increase production by 600 percent while only doubling land use.

“We do not need to advance into preservation areas in Brazil, or in other countries, to increase the production of food and other agriculture products,” he says. “Technology is the answer.”