Founder Spotlight: Cherrie Atilano of AGREA
AGREA Founding Farmer and President Cherrie Atilano’s Story
By Jonas Lontoc
In the Philippines, the agriculture sector remains of crucial importance to its economy. Yet, Filipino farmers are often neglected and given little credit for the work they put in. These farmers are one of the many unsung heroes in the country. Though they work for hours on end in the fields under the sun, they barely make enough income to make ends meet.
Luckily, there are people like Cherrie Atilano, who cares for these unsung heroes and would go as far as establishing AGREA, a company that supports Filipino farmers through various services and educational programs. Through AGREA, she hopes that farmers can finally get the lifestyle and respect they deserve.
AGREA’s agricultural aspirations
Cherrie and the AGREA team joyfully harvesting palay at a farm in Marinduque.
AGREA is a company that mainly serves an agricultural purpose. They provide several commodities to franchises like Bo’s Coffee and the like, as well as teach different and efficient agricultural farming methods like fishing, planting, harvesting, and more. AGREA provides educational programs not only to farmers but also to people who are interested in learning more about farming. AGREA’s vision is to create a living model of a replicable one-island economy that is zero hunger, zero waste, and zero insufficiencies.
Cherrie and graduates of the AGREA Farm School. The Farm School cultivates farmers, non-farmers, the youth, and agricultural enthusiasts to be well-versed in agriculture production.
Taking their vision to educate people on the importance of agriculture, AGREA also reaches out to various schools around the Visayas islands like Palawan, Marinduque, Mindoro, and more to help shape students to become more agriculturally inclined. They want to inspire the younger generation to help the country’s economy and ecology.
During LEAF Siargao: More Love for Women Farmers - the largest gathering of women farmers in the Philippines. AGREA's vision is to make Siargao the first women-led agricultural island in the Philippines.
One of the stigmas that AGREA wants to remove from the current mindset of the Filipino youth is the idea that agricultural occupations are merely for those who are less educated. This is why AGREA puts in the effort to repackage the image of farming; they want to make it become more relevant and relatable for our society: to make farming cool, smart, sexy, and humane. By doing this, AGREA also hopes to empower farmers by reframing how people perceive their profession, encouraging more respect for the agriculture sector and the hardworking people in it.
Cherrie Atilano and her roots
Cherrie Atilano was recently recognized as the 2018 Ten Outstanding Young Men and Women of the Philippines (TOYM) honoree for Agribusiness, last April 9, 2019.
The woman behind this inspiring organization is Cherrie Atilano. She is a woman with a strong devotion to her cause. Despite having to go through many obstacles, she has chosen to make sacrifices that led her to where she is today.
Cherrie grew up in a sugarcane farm in Negros Occidental. She started teaching farmers at the age of 12 about intensive gardening, showing them how to plant vegetables instead of buying from markets and spending most of their income. From a young age, she had already set a path for herself - she wanted to be involved in agriculture. Even if her decision was not supported by her mother, she pushed on, knowing that she wanted to devote herself to care for and work with farmers.
When Cherrie reached college, she took up an agriculture degree in the Visayas State University. After graduating, she entered Ayala Land Corporation as a landscape agricultural designer. Though she was very successful in her career at the time, she was not satisfied with what she did. She aspired to do more, so she decided to leave her job to go after a higher cause. She joined the Gawad Kalinga organization and served in its food security arm. Through the organization, she was able to start a program called Bayan Anihan that was later deemed to be the biggest food sufficiency program in the country.
Cherrie presenting AGREA's work during the 2018 ASEAN Agriculture Summit, where she was also recognized as the first AGrow awardee for Agripreneurship by Go Negosyo.
While she was already pursuing her dreams of helping farmers, it was then that she was faced with a difficult choice. She was offered a Fulbright scholarship to an Ivy League school for master studies. She knew that if she took it, her work in the Philippines would have to take a backseat. It was definitely a difficult decision to make, but ultimately, she decided to turn down the offer. She says, “If I leave these farmers who are not as educated as I am, who am I as a person?”
Cherrie and one of AGREA's partner-farmers: Nanay Rogelia, with a bountiful harvest of turmeric. AGREA is managing the largest coconut-turmeric intercrop farm in the Philippines.
Cherrie ended up staying and continuing her work. Although she knew that she was already beginning to make an impact on the lives of the farmers, she knew she is capable of reaching more farmers and helping make a bigger impact on the agriculture sector. This brought her to founding AGREA.
Teach a man how to fish
Cherrie strongly believes that helping improve the Philippine agriculture sector would enable the country’s economic status to improve exponentially. Strengthening the sector would lead to lessening the need to import, increasing self-sustainability, and quite possibly, even becoming a top exporter of more commodities than before.
She disagrees with the thought that agriculture in the Philippines is dying. Simply put, Cherrie knows that with the right people working towards strengthening and empowering farmers and the country’s agriculture sector, the Philippines would thrive more than ever.
“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but teach a man how to fish and he will learn how to feed himself forever,” Cherrie shares her philosophy. As someone who adheres to this belief, she created AGREA, and hopes more people would be inspired to “teach a man how to fish”, too.
To learn more about AGREA, check out their website here.