What Matters To Me: Cherrie Atilano, Founder Of Agrea Philippines
The woman paving the way for a sustainable agricultural system in the Philippines
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters
Cherrie Atilano has made it her life’s work to empower the farmers of the Philippines. Through her company Agrea and as a consultant to the country’s Department of Agrarian Reform, she endeavours to put farmers in charge of their own lives with inclusive, sustainable agricultural programmes. Here, she describes her work in her own words.
Agrea aims to develop the first One Island Economy in the Philippines that focuses on zero hunger, zero waste and zero insufficiency. We are modelling it on the island of Marinduque and are currently replicating it on Siargao. Our mission is to empower local farmers and utilise the resources of the island by implementing sustainable agricultural practices and creating inclusive agribusiness livelihood programmes.
The company makes use of an island-wide development approach in forwarding sustainable agriculture, which is the most neglected sector in the Philippines. We work with public and private institutions, as well as civil society organisations present on the island. We also mobilise locals—particularly the youth—to be on the front line in making their future brighter.
I am lucky to have found my purpose and passion at an early age. I started working with sugarcane farmers at the age of 12, and was teaching them the basics of planting their own food around their houses so that they could simultaneously eat healthily and save money. Having been in agriculture for 20 years now, some people call me the “21st century farmer.” I am proud of my commitment to the cause because it has made a solid impact and has influenced many. Along the way, I have also been given the privilege to inspire people and to give them the ability to dream big for themselves and for the country.
My goal is to scale the business and the advocacy of the organisation. I want my company to be the model of a young, female led, inclusive agribusiness company in the country. This year, we are establishing our second farm school on Siargao Island. We will focus on empowering and training the women from every farming community to be the food producers, to aid in resolving the island’s crisis in food security, caused by the booming tourism industry.
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I learned from people who don’t know how to read and write, with very minimal education. In spite of this, I was granted a Fulbright Scholarship eight years ago at an Ivy League school. However, I was in the middle of helping ex-convicts become farmers—and, more importantly, good fathers and providers in their households—so I let go of my scholarship and stayed with them to help develop the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm. A lot of people did not understand my situation and judged my decision to forgo such a prestigious scholarship. It was also distressing for me because it was my greatest personal dream. But I asked myself, “What kind of a person would I be if I leave the very people who depend on me?” Society may have left them behind but I could not and will not.