We first featured Cherrie D. Atilano earlier this year for her mission of “Making Farming Sexy”—encouraging young Filipinos, women especially, to go into farming like she has. But it wasn’t just that catchy slogan that got us hooked.
Cherrie’s inspiring story makes her life peg material: She grew up working on a sugarcane farm in Negros Occidental, graduated magna cum laude with a degree in agriculture from the Visayas State University, gave up a Fulbright scholarship in the US so she could stay in the Philippines and help local farmers, and founded AGREA, an award-winning Marinduque-based social enterprise which aims to help eradicate poverty for farming and fishing families, alleviate the effects of climate change, and help establish food security in the Philippines.
Impressed yet? There’s more. The 33-year-old Pinay has just been appointed by United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres as a Lead Group member of the UN’s Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, the goal of which is to ensure a world free from malnutrition by 2030.
As a SUN Lead Group member—one of only 27 from around the world and the only Southeast Asian on the list!—Cherrie is now a high-level ambassador for the UN, a role she will hold until 2021.
Below, Cherrie tells us how her trip to the UN Headquarters in New York went, how she’ll serve as a newly-minted UN nutrition ambassador, and how YOU can make your own mark like she has.
What she’s been up to since her last Cosmo interview:
"We launched AGREA programs in Siargao—both More Love for Women Farmers, which makes the island the first women-led agriculture island in the Philippines; and The Garden Classroom Program for public elementary schools, which will allow pupils to learn how to grow their own food, harvest organic vegetables for their feeding program, and love nature at the same time. We will be replicating the AGREA Farm School and Farm Business in the island by next year.
I grew much wisdom, I must say. So many beautiful things have happened and most of them had me overcoming challenges and waking up every morning with so much hope."
How she and AGREA got the attention of the UN:
"AGREA received the UN Global Compact Agriculture Business Excellence Award in 2017. I also met some people in the UN when I spoke at the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture event in Switzerland in 2014. I’ve also been invited several times to UN events in New York and Rome, and also to sustainability conferences around the world.
However, the main reason they chose me is my 21-year advocacy in agriculture, one I’ve had since I was young. As the SUN secretariat said to me, my movement of “Making Farming Sexy” should reach every corner of the world.
I also embody what it’s like to be a female leader in a male-dominated industry, I’m young, and I’m from the ASEAN, which has been called the next frontier."
About the SUN Movement:
"The principle of the SUN Movement is that everyone has the right to food and nutrition, and these two should go hand in hand. The movement addresses the problem of 149 million children who are suffering from malnutrition—which has devastating consequences for health, learning, future earning potential, economic development, resilience, and security. The mission is to work towards a world free from malnutrition, in all forms, by 2030, nourishing people and planet together."
Her responsibilities as a SUN Movement Lead Group member:
"I support the 60 member countries and five Indian States as they pursue their goals to scale up nutrition. I will also provide strategic oversight on the movement, encouraging coherence and collective accountability for results. With this, I can influence in strengthening both policy and action in terms of solving malnutrition across the globe, while focusing and giving emphasis on our policy and efforts here in the Philippines and the ASEAN region."
What she’s excited to contribute to the SUN Movement:
"I made my commitment to secure nutrition by securing food sufficiency and security. I always make farming sexy by mentoring a lot of young people to venture into agriculture, empower women in agriculture to make sure proper nutrition starts from home, work on multi-stakeholder partnerships in making sure nutrition will be a serious business to lower stunted growth and boost our human capital productivity, and invest in impactful agri-foods."
How it feels to be one of 27 global leaders in the SUN Movement:
"It’s humbling. At the same time, I am so grateful for the privilege to be among them as they are amazing leaders whom I look up to. They created bold changes in their sphere of influence and inspired the world by their great accomplishments. They bring a wealth of experiences that I can learn from, and I am so fortunate to have that network of people I can collaborate with to expand my advocacy and work in the future. It is so good to brainstorm in a room full of intellectuals who are humble enough to solicit your ideas and open-minded enough to collaborate."
How her time at the UN Headquarters in New York went:
"It was the experience of a lifetime. For me, it was not about the special treatment, which was a bonus, but more of recognizing the fact that you are with a group of people who are so hardworking and passionate about creating positive changes in the world. New York during the UN General Assembly was a bustle of brains, hearts, and hands working together to make the world a better place to live in. You come out exhausted from all the events, but with a heart full of inspiration and a lot of concrete steps for taking action."
What she wishes more young Filipinos knew about nutrition and agriculture:
"Every day, 95 children in the Philippines die from malnutrition. 27 out of 1,000 Filipino children do not get past their fifth birthday. A third of Filipino children are stunted, or short for their age. Stunting after two years of age can be permanent, irreversible, and even fatal, according to UNICEF.
Additionally, the right food is not easily accessible, especially to our poor fellow men. We have 12 million hectares of underproductive lands, farmers are getting old, there is a declining interest among young people to go into agriculture, and our population is exponentially growing.
With all these, I think we have enough reasons to knock on the hearts of our young Filipinos and encourage them to help in boosting our agriculture sector. It will greatly help in establishing food sufficiency and security in the country, which could help in solving our malnutrition problem."
Her advice for other women who want to make a mark in their advocacies:
"Focus! I have been in this advocacy for 21 years, never disturbed by all other great opportunities. I was lucky to find my passion and purpose in agriculture.
Practice excellence and be authentic in what you choose to advocate. Immerse yourself in the community and have the humility to realize that at the end of the day, we are not superheroes who can solve all their problems; we are mere facilitators who can open opportunities for them or guide them in unleashing their potential so they can be the solutions to their own problems.
And at the end of every good job, the sweetest thing to do is pamper yourself. Self-love is a necessity."