Cherrie Atilano

Photo Artu Nepomuceno

Education, empowerment, and sustainable agribusiness models revitalise Philippine farming


Cherrie Atilano has been teaching low-income farmers how to plant their own food since she was 12 years old. Growing up on a sugarcane farm and raised by a single mother, her love for land is rooted in her childhood. As such, she has acquired a perspective on the role of women in agriculture.

Atilano is the CEO and founder of Agrea, a social enterprise that is building the One Island Economy Model in one of the poorest but most bountiful provinces in the Philippines. Based in Marinduque, she is creating a circular economy for 250,000 Filipinos across over 50,000 hectares of agriculture land. Agrea has also become the platform for women empowerment, poverty alleviation, and zero-waste initiatives. Her efforts were recognised by the UN through the Global Compact Agriculture Business Excellence Award in 2017.

Through the pandemic, she has been pushing for green recovery with the Philippines Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture and the French Embassy in the Philippines. The project, which focuses on food security, launched “Women Save Food” to bring attention to the lack of prioritisation for women during crises. The initiative designs programmes for women to create nutritional diets based on organic backyard vegetables. This isn’t her first experience with such an endeavour. In 2017, Atilano was also appointed as lead group member of the UN’s Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, which aims to end malnutrition around the world by 2030.

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Cherrie Atilano shared, “My mother taught me to make an issue personal. If it doesn’t hit you in the gut, you won’t have the guts.” The matter of agricultural sustainability is so personal, in fact, that she gave up her Fullbright scholarship to stay in the Philippines and set up the Gawad Kalinga Farm years before her dream of Agrea came to life. 

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