How Riverside Lured ISCA Technologies to Uproot Global Agriculture

Published: 10/22/21

The ISCA team and its drone application. Courtesy ISCA Technologies

Weekends at his family’s farms in Southern Brazil where he played with animals are the childhood memories Agenor Mafra-Neto holds dear. He was just a boy when he realized an indiscriminate use of pesticides did more harm than good on land he felt called to protect. 

This awakening put Mafra-Neto on a path to create alternatives for crop protection that were safer for the planet by becoming an acclaimed entomologist and chemical ecologist. All roads led to Riverside where Mafra-Neto founded ISCA Technologies in 1996. It’s a green biotech company that produces the next generation of environmentally sustainable insect controls.  

“Riverside was built on agriculture with a growing economy already in place,” Mafra-Neto said on head-quartering there at a time when he could have gone anywhere.

 Agenor Mafra-Neto working to control the nutcase bearer, a pest of pecans, in 1998. Courtesy ISCA Technologies. 

ISCA means “lure” in Portuguese — fitting because the company uses pheromones and other naturally occurring compounds called semiochemicals to manipulate the behavior of animals by steering them off course. ISCA products repel insects such as bark beetles away from trees of value and tell honeybees where to pollinate based on those semiochemical cues.

“We trick everything from tiny insects to huge elephants into doing what we want before they become a problem,” Mafra-Neto said. “What we’re developing here in Riverside is changing agriculture globally.”

Elephants in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Courtesy ISCA Technologies. 

In South Africa’s Kruger National Park, there is a deadly conflict between elephants and people because the large land animals will hop fences to feed on farmers’ crops such as sugar cane. To help resolve the conflict, ISCA developed formulations with bee alarm pheromones to spray fences to safely repel elephants after discovering they wouldn’t go near something believed to be teeming with bees.

“It’s inspiring to see ISCA answer the call and meet the need with life-changing technology from Riverside to the rest of the world,” said,  Councilmember Edwards.

Mafra-Neto said he considers the city an inimitable partner. When ISCA needed a wet lab to develop formulations, the city stepped up to share the cost. ISCA spread the love by turning the new lab space into an incubator to help startups within the sector. Fascinating work has emerged from the ventures including extraction of materials from exotic plants to fight depression and cancer.

 The ISCA Technologies lab in Riverside. Courtesy ISCA Technologies. 

“It’s a snowball effect. The companies that do well in Riverside incentivize others to stay and grow here,” Mafra-Neto said.

ISCA is undoubtedly one of the success stories with subsidiaries in 10 countries and substantial sales in 30 markets worldwide. In its backyard, ISCA employs 40 people in high-paying roles.

“The intellectual capacity we have here is tremendous,” said Mafra-Neto, referring to recruiting from Riverside’s critical mass of higher education.


Agenor Mafra-Neto harvesting cotton from Brazil. Courtesy ISCA Technologies. 

“ISCA has made a tremendous impact on transforming Riverside into a biotech landing spot,” said, Councilmember Edwards.

“How many opportunities do you have in a lifetime to shape the future of an industry and a city?” Mafra-Neto contemplated while vowing to help Riverside grow. 

For information about ISCA Technologies, go to www.isca.com.