Agrea: The Next Sexy Thing
AGREA Team in Marinduque
“Farming is sexy, cool, smart, and humane.” This is the battle cry of Cherrie Atilano, the President and Founding Farmer of AGREA PH who is one of 2016’s Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) awardees.
In an era of digital start-ups, Cherrie started AGREA, an agriculture-based social enterprise that helps in organizing farming communities, building an enabling environment for farmers to thrive and progress in an inclusive, farmer-centered business in the island-province of Marinduque, and linking them to stable markets locally and in the urban areas.
Farming is considered a poor man’s job in the Philippines. In fact, many old farmers have hoped their children would work in cities to have more stable careers.
Indeed, it’s rare to find a young Filipino who dreams of becoming a farmer. And yet, this has been Cherrie’s dream since she was twelve years old.
Cherrie Atilano, President and Founding Farmer
Likened to a seed, Atliano’s dream has been planted in her mind for quite some time before it became a fruit-bearing plant that gives people life.
“When I was younger, I would ride my bike and teach farmers how to grow high value crops,” she told me in Cebuano, a language she intentionally learned to be able to communicate with many of our Filipino farmers.
Born in Negros, she moved to Baybay City, Leyte and majored in agriculture at the Visayas State University because she has always dreamed of helping improve the country’s agriculture sector. In 2007, Atliano was one of the country’s Ten Outstanding Students.
Before starting AGREA, she was with Bayan-Anihan and the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm, and served as a consultant for the Department for Agrarian Reform (DAR).
In November 2014, she finally decided to start her own business with the help of her mentors, Yong Nieva, Ivy Almario and Arnold Alagar. She looked at what the farmers in Marinduque were producing and what crops they were importing to develop the farm plan. Today, she busily juggles her time as a farmer, trainer and manager.
AGREA, which comes from Agriculture and Gaea (environment), is an innovative inclusive business that is founded on fair trade, sustainable agriculture and a replicable model of an agri-based economy.
Zero hunger. Zero waste. Zero insufficiency. This is AGREA’s bold dream for communities in the Philippines.
“We want to pilot the one-island economy model, starting with Marinduque,” Atilano shares. She explains that the model aims to make food sufficient for the people in the island while reducing waste and imports.
AGREA Model Farm in Marinduque
Marinduque, an island province, was chosen as the pilot area because it is one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines. It is the ideal test area due to its terrain that allows the production of different crops, as well as its geographic size (with only six towns) and population of 260,000.
Through its 3000-sqm all-organic model farm, AGREA tests and develop organic and smart farming techniques, which it then shares to farmers in Marinduque through training. The model farm has its own vermicompost and produces its own organic fertilizers to grow high value crops, vegetables and coconut.
“We grow lettuce, arugula and spinach in our model farm – which is near the beach,” Cherrie proudly shares.
AGREA is constantly innovating its produce and farming methods. Using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), for example, rice farmers can save fifty percent of water and more than ninety percent of seeds used.
Vermicompost at AGREA Farm
AGREA now employs twelve people and partners with fifteen communities in Marinduque as consolidator and trader of their produce, a work in progress that the AGREA team is working hard to be sustainable. This happens with the help of the DAR and the Cooperative Development Authority to form associations and cooperatives to help farmers collectively trade. AGREA is curating the communities to create artisanal products from their own produce.
Aside from ensuring organic produce for its clients, AGREA also makes sure that it improves the lives of farmers through fair trade. For example, it purchases raw turmeric at P15 per kilo, which is higher than other middle men’s prices at P5 per kilo.
AGREA trains farmers in innovative and smart farming techniques
AGREA’s products are often processed in Marinduque to increase shelf life and add value to the products. This also ensures that the products “survive the long trip” to Manila since the staff travel at least eight hours from Marinduque to deliver goods.
Some products have been curated to be included in “Marinduque in a Bag,” a brand to showcase the best of the island. When it was created and launched for Christmas, all the products were sold out in less than a day.
AGREA doesn’t stop there, however. In partnership with the Department of Education, it is establishing farming schools in Marinduque. There are eighteen partners at the moment, but the target is to create farming gardens in one hundred eighty three schools within five years to educate the next generation of mindful and empowered Filipino farmers and citizens that live in a sustainable way with respect to the environment and food creation.
In other words, AGREA is planting more seeds through our students, who will hopefully become living proof that “farming is sexy, cool, smart, and humane.” What a bright future there is for our country!
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