An early start
Cherrie Atilano’s love for agriculture started when she read a book that said, “If you’re poor, 100% of your money goes to food – 70% goes to rice, and 30% goes to what you partner with rice.” This had a big impact on her, and she started teaching farmers about intensive gardening techniques at the tender age of 12. She showed the farmers how to plant their own crops instead of buying them. 22 years on, she remains inspired, passionate and driven as she serves the agriculture community in the Philippines.
The beginning of her sustainable mission
Now, Cherrie is the founding farmer, CEO and President of AGREA International, which aims to create the first one island economy in the Philippines – based on sustainable agriculture alone.
In 2017, Cherie set up the AGREA Farm School in Mardinduque. The school delivers educational programs for smallholders and family farms, based on each farmer's needs, capacity and resources. Since it opened, AGREA Farm School has grown to become the most recognized farm school in the Philippines, training thousands of smallholder farmers in sustainable agriculture.
Supporting farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic
Amidst COVID-19, AGREA launched the Move Food Initiative (MFI) which has helped 20,000 farmers in the Philippines to have access to the consumer market during COVID-19. This has led to the creation of the AGREA Farmers’ Cooperative, which aims to support farmers in a more comprehensive manner.
These initiatives were so successful that AGREA was recognised by the UN Women 2020 APAC WEPs (Women’s Empowerment Principles) Awards for its significant contributions to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment during the pandemic.
The secrets of her lasting success
Cherie identifies three main factors that have helped her achieve success: focus, collaboration and strict time management.
"How do I do things differently? I am actually very focused. I've been in the sector for 22 years never been swayed to another sector or another advocacy. Secondly, I love to collaborate and be resourceful because I know that you can always solve the problem with so many heads. Thirdly, I manage my time – every second and every minute to ensure that it is fruitful.”
Beyond these factors, of course, is her motivation which, for Cherie, is the belief that the work she is doing is making a real impact.
“Always remember that feeding people is the most sustainable business you can have. I know we're on the right path because agriculture is the most beautiful business, we're creating a lot of impact. We're bringing food to the table of every family, for every person in the world. And at the same time, we're also impacting our local and global economy.
I believe that malnutrition is a human rights issue but also an economic one. Malnutrition starts from growing the food and recognizing the roles of the farmers in the whole food systems to solve problems in malnutrition globally. I find it a crime most of the time that the producers of the food in the food chain are the poorest and the hungriest. Representing them in the local and global dialogue is very important to me."
Countering malnutrition and improving food security is a priority for a number of global agencies, such as the WHO, and feeds into a number of the UNs Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being, and Responsible Consumption and Production.
Cherie is playing an active role in these initiatives. Appointed to the role of Philippine Ambassador of Food Security by the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines, she is proud of her work with women, young people, overseas Filipino workers, and retirees - inspiring them to enter the agribusiness industry, while pushing the sector to remain pro-farmer and pro-planet.
A message to other women in agriculture
Her advice to women farmers is to always know your rights, have clarity on your strengths and focus on nurturing the agriculture sector. This is the only sector that takes care of all living things, the crops, animals and people; being the nurturer is the most powerful weapon of the women farmers.
This story was first published on LinkedIn by WOMAG as part of its “Where are the Women: Stories from Agripreneurs in Southeast Asia.”
About Cherrie Atilano
Cherrie De Erit Atilano is the Founding Farmer, President and CEO of AGREA, an
agriculture-focused and for-purpose inclusive enterprise anchored on the principle of Ecology of Dignity.
AGREA aims to develop a living model of a replicable “one island” economy, founded on
sustainable agriculture, livelihood programs, environment, community-based tourism, and
quality education of the children of farmers and fishermen.
She is also a co-founder of HATIENDA Holdings Inc., an agritourism and agri-processing space to produce Filipino agricultural products for local and exports market.
In 2020, Cherrie was appointed as a Food Security Ambassador by the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines, empowering and inspiring youths to take up agriculture as a career in the nation.