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forWard: Finding Opportunities and Roles for Women in Agriculture and Rural Development

Through forWard, dignified women farmers lead Marinduque to become a one-island economy with zero hunger, zero waste and zero insufficiency.

Photo of Cherrie Atilano
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

AGREA Agricultural Communities International Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

AGREA Agricultural System International Inc.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Marinduque, Philippines

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

The Philippines

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Marinduque is an island province that is hailed as the "heart of the Philippines." The island is 952.58 km^2, and is home to 298000 people.

What country is your selected Place located in?

The Philippines

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I started teaching farmers at the age of 12. I have read from a book that when you are poor, 100 percent of your income goes to food - 70% goes rice, and 30% goes to viand. But when you plant vegetables around your house, you will save 30% of your money that you can use for the education of your children. 

With a bicycle, I taught farmers about sustainable ways of backyard gardening, every weekend - for 4 years. I taught my neighbourhood of growing their own food. The back of used calendars served as my blackboard, and nearby sari-sari stores as my classroom. For 4 years, they learned, grew their own food, and sent their children to school.

The works I did reached the Pope himself in Vatican. He invited me for a week of discussion with him, along with 40 other young leaders all over the world. I shared my vision to the Pope: the dream of creating this replicable one-island economy that will focus on dignifying Filipino farmers and fisherfolks. He encouraged me to make it a reality.

As I got back to the Philippines, I went to Marinduque – one of the poorest provinces in the country, and started realizing my vision in the island. Marinduque is special to me, because it is here where I am realizing a vision that can outlive me.

The Philippines has 7641 islands. Yet, not one of these islands is sustainable, in terms of food and economy. My vision for Marinduque is for the island to become a living model of a replicable one-island economy that is zero hunger, zero waste, and zero insufficiency. I find it scandalous that our food producers in the value chain are the poorest and hungriest. I want to contribute in enabling a new breed of farmers and fisherfolks: those who are leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

When I first set eyes in Marinduque, I can see its resemblance to Jumanji, the movie. The island has a little bit of everything of how beautiful the Philippines is. Beautiful caves, beaches, lagoons, mangroves, abundance offered by the blue seas, rice paddies, and lots of coconut trees. Before, I used to travel for 8 hours from Manila to Marinduque through bus and ferries. Today, it will only take me 45 minutes to travel to the island by plane.

Marinduque is called many names, one of which is “The Lenten Capital of the Philippines” – because of the well known Moriones festival, celebrated every holy week. During the festival, people use morion masks to depict Roman soldiers, and Syrian mercenaries in the story of the Passion of the Christ. Old Catholic churches are also a commonplace scene in the island. With Moriones festival and old churches, Marinduque is known for its great potential in cultural tourism.

Geographically, Marinduque is the “heart of the Philippines”, and at the same time, the island is heart-shaped. The island is the geographical center of the Philippines, because the Luzon Datum of 1911 or Station Balanacan, which is located in the island. Luzon Datum of 1911 is a marker and geodetic reference of all geological surveys in the Philippines. Apart from this, Mount Malindig, the highest point in the island, is a real ridge-to-reef wonder. It is believed that the name Marinduque originated from Malindig or Malindug - which means tall and elegant stature.

The best gift of the island is its people. Marinduquenos are known to be very warm and kind.  The island is one of the most peaceful provinces, and is known for its low crime rate.  People in the island are very hospitable, too. You are never in Marinduque if you haven’t experienced Putong – a traditional local dance for visitors. You will come as a visitor, and leave as a friend.

Marinduque is rural, but a very festive place. In addition to the warmth of the people, the island also boasts of having the best lechon (roasted pig - national food of the Philippines). The island is also known for root crop processing particularly arrow root into candies, pastilles, confectionaries, fruit processing, and vegetable production. Locals in the island eat rice and fish, as healthy vegetables are not commonly grown, but are sourced from other provinces. 

There are 4 million coconut trees in Marinduque, but coconut farmers only earn $60 every 4 days. There are also no water sources to accommodate rice production. Most rice farms depend on rain-fed systems. Last 2019, it was a groundbreaking Independence Day when a solar water pump, the first in Marinduque, was installed and turned-over by our team to a  partner-farming community in Torrijos. For 30 years without water, the solar water pump was installed in just 30 days. This will enable the farmers to mitigate the effects of the changing climate in their farms for the next 25 years.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

At present, Marinduque is a rural province in the Philippines that, despite the abundance of fertile land and waters, faces problems of food insufficiency and economic underdevelopment. Although the island holds tremendous potential in its agricultural and fishery landscape, farmers are a dying breed due to lack of policy support, capacity-building initiatives for their continuous learning, and profitable agricultural opportunities. Many farmers and fishermen are unable to sufficiently support their families, making as little as $60 every 40 days.

Farmers often rely on farming practices that led to low yields and environmental ruin. Secondly, and more importantly, traders often exploit these farmers, buying crops at abysmal prices. In turn, the island’s youth avoid pursuing agriculture as a career.  

In the absence of other livelihoods, the island’s economy has staggered, and there’s an evident gradual loss of environmental vitality. Forest fires in Mt. Malindig are becoming common.

Marinduque’s farmers and fisherfolks are ageing, their children are leaving the island, and those that remain are becoming increasingly dependent on food imports. The diets of local Marinduquenos are commonly rice and fish. Vegetables and other nutritious food not grown in the island are more expensive – since it is imported from nearby provinces. Logistics costs of importing these simple vegetables (like eggplant, ampalaya, okra, and leafy greens), make the cost of food three times more expensive.

Like other islands in the Philippines, Marinduque also experiences three to five typhoons every year, and even extreme droughts every three years. This makes the agriculture sector of the island vulnerable to these uncontrollable conditions.

As Marinduque is known for the “Moriones Festival” every holy week, tourists flock the island. During this month, food is in demand in the island more than ever. Importation to meet this demand is common.

If these challenges in the island will not be addressed in the next 30 years, in the year 2050 – food will really be expensive in the island since its import-dependent; there will no longer be farmers and fisherfolks to produce food, Marinduque will be on the list of the poorest and hungriest places in the Philippines, and the exponentially growing population will live by the scarce food-water-shelter available.

Moriones Festival will just exist in memories of locals and tourists who can remember it. Mount Malindig will be plains and plains of houses to shelter the still growing population of the island.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The one-island economy model treats Marinduque as a mini Philippines. We are piloting the island as a model out of the 7641 islands in the Philippines. In Marinduque, we are only dealing with 1 governor, 1 congressman, and 6 mayors. The political landscape is conducive as we partner with the government. Marinduque is home to 298,000 people, and is 64% agricultural – this is manageable in terms of modelling the island.

To address the issue of self-sufficiency, AGREA works through the forWard (Finding Opportunities and Roles of Women in Agriculture and Rural Development) approach, to pioneer Marinduque as a one-island economy model centered on zero hunger, zero waste, and zero insufficiency. To achieve this vision, the team taps on the potential women-farmers and fisherfolks as entrepreneurs, encouraging them to dream big, dignify their work, and taps on multi-stakeholder policy collaboration to ensure the island’s agricultural and economic progress.

The forWard approach enables women to be the center of moving agriculture and rural development forward. We believe investing for women is an investment for the whole community. The initiative focuses on core areas of education and sustainable livelihood, both of which are designed for farm tourism and agripreneurship programs. 

Backed up by a policy roadmap tailor-fitted for the island, forWard aims to address the inadequate support to women farmers in rural communities, and at the same time create an ecological thriving climate of farm tourism economy in the island province of Marinduque. forWard proposes a community-based agritourism project that will be led by women-farmers to develop sustainable farms, while positioning Marinduque Island as a prime farm tourism destination in the Philippines. 

forWard maximizes and taps on the encompassing potential of farm tourism. For 5 years of working with farming communities in Marinduque, AGREA have strategized that in order to showcase and successfully diversify the economic base of farmers, and restoring environmental vitality - farm tourism is the most innovative step. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Philippines is a top player of farm tourism globally. In recent years, farm tourism has surged as a result of a new generation of mindful tourists. These younger tourists are seeking escape from the city, farm-to-table dining, and interactions with local communities. In response to this potential, The Department of Tourism accredited the AGREA Farm Estate as the first official farm tourism site in the MIMAROPA Region.

However, agri-tourism human resource capacity, infrastructure on the island, and many farms lack the inputs and facilities to make their farms profitable and amenable to visitors. Therefore, there is a need to serve this gap, through programs that focus on trainings and workshops, to establish a profitable and ethical systems (both organizational and infrastructure) for farm-tourism activities, while producing more healthy food for the island.

Through the island-wide forWard policy that is harmonized and passed down to all stakeholders on the year 2020, Marinduque continues to achieve being the first women led one-island economy with zero hunger, zero waste, and zero insufficiency.

From exporting simple agriculture produce like vegetables, the people of Marinduque are now growing their own food.  Marinduque can produce its own healthy food, reducing logistics cost – making healthy food affordable for the people.  People can now afford healthy and nutritious food, which was 3X higher in the past due to importation food in the island. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

While our approach is open to all gender, forWard is targeting to reach more women farmers and fisherfolks in Marinduque. Our vision sees this opportunity not only to improve the food security of Marinduque, but also to promote gender equality in the agriculture sector. The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that in 2016, male farmers were paid Php 17.45 more than women farmers. The trend is consistent: the pay gap reflects a difference of Php 20.58 in 2015, Php 13.9 in 2014, and Php 9.61 in 2013. 

Through the forWard approach, we aim to eliminate the pay gap, and create improved livelihoods for both women and men farmers.

We believe that investing in women farmers will lead to exponential impact that will benefit the children and youth. Studies have shown that women invest as much as ten times more of their earnings than men do in their family’s well-being, in areas including health, education, and nutrition. Thus, empowering women will have a direct impact on the project’s overall goal of increasing food security, and profitable ecological climate of farm tourism.


 As a woman entrepreneur, I also know the impact that women can make in male-dominated agriculture. In Marinduque, communities like Bicas-Bicas, women become managers of a cocosugar processing facility, scaling the work done by their coconut farmer husbands. The Baliis Women Farmers and Community Association produces creative bespoke products from “buntal”- a local fiber that grows in Marinduque. Adelaida Zamora, a farmer in Malibago, beautified her farmland and often opens her doors to me and other guests. Beyond food security, I hope to co-develop this new narrative of agriculture through farm tourism with other extraordinary women-farmers and fisherfolks in Marinduque.

Developing women-led farm tourism is an opportunity to capture 83,000 tourists (will continue to increase in the coming years) visiting the island. Tourist arrivals in Marinduque— an estimated 952 square kilometers heart-shaped island—has been steadily climbing since 2009 with nearly 83,000 travelers visiting the province in 2015.


 forWard runs a holistic approach to agriculture development that is solution-oriented,profitable, and puts farmers first. We build mutually-beneficial relationships with farmers and fisherfolks, offering capacity-building programs that enable them to dream for themselves and manage their farms as responsible business people.

forWard’s holistic approach starts with the most valuable resource: food producers (specifically women) and their families. Through the Federation of Farmers and Fisherfolks – farmers and their families can access capacity development programs on financial literacy, organic agriculture, agripreneurship, and farm tourism. The federation is a united group of diverse farmers: those who belong to associations, and individual smallholder farmers.

A large share of profit returns to the communities, increasing incomes, sustaining social programs, and educating a new generation of agricultural leaders. Our comprehensive farm tourism loop is the culmination of our work: putting farmers at the helm of the island’s economy, and inspiring communities to exercise creative and entrepreneurial freedom as they showcase Marinduque’s rural charm.


a. Harmonize forWard approach with Local Government of Marinduque, and relevant key stakeholders, to create an island-wide policy roadmap. 

b. Implement the forWard policy roadmap. 

c. Identify women-farmers who will be partners and key enablers of forWard. These women farmers may be members of associations or groups, and individual smallholder farmers. Trainings will be synthesized for Marinduque-specific farm tourism module. Skills training on organic and sustainable, agriculture, agripreneurship, farm tourism (homestay, hospitality, customer service), food processing, food safety, and public health and safety measures.

d. Farms of agri-entrepreneurs (mostly women and youth) are developed into a farm tourism loop (farm hopping). The empowered women agri-entrepreneurs can develop needed farm tourism infrastructures for their farms, using the seed funds provided. Construct or add on to current facilities, some of which may include: compost/ eco-friendly toilets, greenhouse, vermicompost facility, drying facility, piggery, chicken coop, butterfly garden, seedling nursery, storage areas, vertical farming using bamboo, and rain-water harvesting system.

e. Marketing and promotion of the farm tourism loop is assisted by partner departments, and social media channels.

f. Profit will be generated through entrance fees, farm-to-table food, pick and pay, accommodations, and educational tour.

 g. There will be a centralized financial system to manage the payments of the farm loop: 70% of the net profit will be a shared income of the women agri-entrepreneurs and forWard, while 30% will go to the Federation of Farmers and Fisherfolks included in the program: this will go to the scholarship of their children, health insurance, educational trainings, housing, and farm tourism facility improvements.

h. Support in good governance and registration of micro businesses that will be created and led by the women farmers.

i. Continuous mentoring and coaching will be offered to the agri-entrepreneurs.


1. EDUCATION – Masterclass towards Outstanding Village Economies (MOVE)

Education is a sustainable development multiplier; therefore, investing in relevant and quality education for women farmers is exponential. Masterclass towards Outstanding Village Economies (MOVE) is a learning center for women, focused on improved nutrition at home and communities - through trainings on processing and selling of healthy superfoods. Processing includes making high quality baked goods, jams and pickled goods, and juice extracts from superfoods such as: turmeric, herbs, papaya, and blue ternate. Organic soap-making will also be offered on the masterclasses to supply the farm tourism loop that will be developed in the program.

Creating village economies is important for the communities of Marinduque, because the island is made up of agri-based rural communities, with a lot of potential for growth and development. MOVE trainees will also be a key human resource hub to supply the bespoke product needs of the farm tourism loop, that will be developed in the forWard program.

 2. SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOOD – Agripreneurship & Farm Tourism

Women are natural nurturers, who have the potential to transform the whole communities for the better. Enabling women through sustainable livelihood opportunities in agriculture ensures gender equity and economic prosperity. forWard integrates gender and development (GAD), and financial literacy training that focus on two main areas: agripreneurship and farm tourism.


 forWard Hub aims to showcase the work and products of women who are feeding their homes and the world. A food processing facility will also be established in the island. forWard Hub promotes the use of eco-friendly materials.

forWard aims to reach  280 women-farmers and fisherfolks every year; this is equal to 8400 women agri-entrepreneurs by 2050. Moreover, we do not just measure the involvement of our direct partners, but also their families and communities. Based on our forecast and recent census, starting from our 8400 women partner-farmers: we aim to directly and indirectly impact 50,000 farming families,  and 100,000 people of the island in 2050.

Replicating the forWard Approach

The One-island Economy in Marinduque focused on farm tourism, is an added value for farms to be ecologically responsible, profitably competitive, produce more healthy food, and encourage more people to be engaged in agriculture.

 Our One-island Economy model and forWard approach is already being replicated in Siargao - hailed as the best island in the world. Siargao Island is most famous as a surfing destination. While it has had an influx of both local and foreign visitors for many years, the island has recently experienced a tourism spike after being named “Best Island in Asia” by luxury travel publication Conde Nast in October 2018, and after Boracay, another famous vacation spot in the Philippines, was temporarily closed down for rehabilitation.

The Philippine Department of Tourism reported that a total of 195,562 tourists visited Siargao in 2018, which is 50.7% higher than the 2017 arrivals. The number of tourists visiting the island is expected to continue increasing over the years with an international seaport set to open by 2020 and an international airport by 2022.

With this scenario, AGREA was invited last 2017 by the Local Government of Siargao as a Consultant, to develop its Food Security and Sufficiency Masterplan for the island. The masterplan focuses on the One-island Economy model, where women lead agriculture production, value-addition, and development of farm tourism agro-enterprises to complement the tourism growth of the island.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Attachments (4)

AGREA Company Profile 2020.pdf

AGREA Comprehensive Company Profile

MCRW Conclusions - 9.17.2019 (1).pdf

Magna Carta for Women in Agriculture Roundtable Conclusions as basis of a law to be submitted in the Congress this year to be a National Bill.

AGREA Programs for Farmers.pdf

AGREA Programs for Farmers

AGREA - our work.pdf

AGREA Primer


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Photo of Thu Nguyen

Hi Cherrie Atilano 

Welcome to the Food Vision Prize community!

For the last hours before the deadline, make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.
Here is the link to the pocket guide:

Look forward to seeing your submission finalised by 31st January, 5:00 pm EST :)

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