From the age of 12, Cherrie Atilano started teaching farmers about intensive gardening, showing them how to plant crops instead of buying them. 22 years on, she continues to remain inspired, passionate and driven to serving the agriculture community in the Philippines. Her 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.”
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.
With Cherrie at the forefront of AGREA, she set up the AGREA Farm School for smallholders and family farms, conducting educational programs based on the farmer's needs, capacity and resources. Since its opening in 2017 in Marinduque, it is the most recognized farm school in the Philippines, training thousands of smallholder farmers in sustainable agriculture.
How did Cherrie support 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 will be established by the end of 2020 and will support farmers in a more comprehensive manner. What has contributed to Cherrie’s success? She names 3 factors – focus, collaboration and 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.”
While she remains focused, collaborative and efficient, Cherrie believes that the impact of the work that she’s doing is what keeps her going.
“Always remember that feeding people is the most sustainable business you can have. And I know we're in the right path because agriculture is the most beautiful business, we're creating a lot of impact. We're bringing food on every 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." As the Philippine Ambassador of Food Security by the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines, Cherrie prides herself on working with youth, women, overseas Filipino workers and retirees - inspiring them to enter the agribusiness industry, whilst pushing the sector to remain pro-farmer and pro-planet.
What's Cherrie's advice for women farmers?
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 by WOMAG.
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 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 September 2020, Cherrie was also 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.