Biotech #FoodHeroes: Fernando Hercos Valicente

Fernando Hercos Valicente

Fernando Hercos Valicente has a no-nonsense view of agriculture.

“I have always thought that agriculture is the key to survival,” he says simply. “If there’s no food, there’s no way of living and surviving.”

As a plant researcher with the National Maize and Sorghum Research Center at Embrapa, Brazil’s Agricultural Research Corporation, Valicente is well-positioned to make sure that the food keeps on coming. Equally important, he’s identified ways of growing crops with minimal impact on the environment.


To that end, Valicente developed five different Baculovirus and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)-based biopesticides that effectively control two extremely destructive agricultural pests — fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) and soybean looper (Chrysodeixis includens). By the end of this year, he expects to make a Baculovirus control against cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) available to farmers in Brazil, as well as one more Bt-based biopesticide.


Valicente also developed a method to grow Bt using enriched rice with carbon, nitrogen, and mineral salt sources as a substrate. At least 20,000 small-scale farmers in Brazil are currently using this biopesticide, which is available at no cost, and plans are underway to distribute it to another 150,000 farmers. The project has also been expanded to several African countries, where more than 1,000 farmers have been trained on how to use and store Bt-based biopesticides.

None of it would have been possible without biotechnology, Valicente says. “It can be used as a tool to better understand insect pathogens, gene sequencing and gene expression, which makes it a perfect resource for the production of microbial pesticides. And it is safe to use in every area of research in order to achieve better results.”