Cherrie Atilano, VSU alumna and one of the 2016 Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service, said being a farmer is cool, smart, sexy, and humane, during a forum on leadership and civic engagement at the VSU Convention Center, November 21.

In her talk, the founder and CEO of AGREA, a social farming enterprise based in Marinduque, said she and her team at AGREA work hard to help farmers more.

“It’s the air that I breathe,” said Atilano as she spoke about her passion for agriculture to some 563 VSU students, staff, and faculty members.

Identifying herself as a social entrepreneur, Atilano shared her trailblazing experiences in creating a one-island economy in Marinduque, an island south of Luzon, Philippines, through AGREA. A combination of the words “agriculture” and “Gaea” or Mother Earth, AGREA is an agribusiness venture, Atilano said, that believes in changing the unfair rules in the farming business in the country.

With a population of very poor farmers and with high importation rate of goods, Marinduque, Atilano envisions, would become a net exporter of its indigenous products in the future.

Atilano said Filipino farmers are the poorest and hungriest in the population despite being food producers.

“Who wakes up at three in the morning to work with positivity and wait for the sun to rise despite phenomenal challenges? Our Filipino farmers. And that attitude makes them world-class,” said Atilano.

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Cherrie Atilano (middle) speaks during the open forum with one of her directors, Helen Gemma Ramos Vallejos (left)

Atilano and her 11-strong team equips farmers in the island with knowledge and information through trainings such as on rice intensification system and other management practices.

Involving the farming community in designing programs with the local government officials, consultation meetings, providing livelihood and business skills trainings to farmers and their families and scholarship programs are among AGREA’s strategies. Atilano said they also immerse youngsters in agricultural activities.

AGREA also helps farmers develop, and process value-added products and create a marketable brand for them.

“All Filipino products are high-quality and our farmers can compete globally,” asserted Atilano as she mentioned the AGREA’s assistance in testing the farmers’ products abroad.

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More than 600 VSU students, faculty and staff flock to the Convention Center to participate in the forum.

Atilano graduated magna cum laude from VSU in 2007 with a degree in Agriculture. In the same year, she was identified as one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines. Recently, Atilano was given the Earth Mover recognition through Rappler’s Move.Ph Awards.