OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Eve: Kuala Lumpur's local food ecosystem

Restoring our food ecosystem by supporting local producers with sustainable practices, thereby bringing fresh, nutritious produce to all.

Photo of Jenifer Kuah
7 3

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name


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.

LANGIT COLLECTIVE: a social enterprise working with farmers to promote heirloom produce grown in pristine natural environments using traditional farming techniques COMMAS PR: marketing and branding consultants. BEANS CONNECTION SDN BHD: Coffee shop which introduced meals designed by a chef who is also a nutritionist. Such meals uses rice distributed by Langit. RECOMIO SYNERGY SDN BHD: owns Sitka Restaurant and Sitka Studio both restaurants promoting local produce and flavours with a team of chefs propagating the message of sourcing local. Sitka Studio is a contemporary restaurant serving an ambitious tasting menu. Our food is provenance driven with virtually all of our ingredients caught, picked, foraged or grown within a few miles of the restaurant with only some interesting products brought in to complement, not dominate, what we already have. Our approach to food allows us to innovate and to showcase the best of Malaysia’s produce.

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

  • 1-3 years

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


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


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

Greater Kuala Lumpur, or the Klang Valley, is a 2793 sq km urban agglomeration with a population of 7.25 million.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Kuala Lumpur (KL) has been home for the past 20 years, and in the last 13, also my workplace where I run several cafes and restaurants. I have seen food supply patterns develop since 2007- growth in the food & beverage industry, alongside changing demands from households, have altered the path of food production. I was challenged by the need, as a mother, to guide my daughter towards better food choices in order to develop healthy eating habits. 

I struggled to source diverse, local produce of quality, up to 2014. Farm to fork sourcing for restaurants was practically unheard of, and many suppliers were surprised by our request. We forged a path to 3 farms, located in the highlands where most of the produce consumed in KL is grown. At that time, demand for ethically grown produce for the home was also limited. Today, local produce is more diverse, however; the question remains, whether such produce is grown ethically, using sustainable methods. 

I was inspired by stories from my business partner, Chef Christian Recomio, who told of how his restaurant in Aberdeen is supplied by local fishermen and  nearby farms with no middlemen. It reminded me of my childhood spent in a small town in Perak, Malaysia, where local farmers sold their produce to end users at the wet markets. There was no need for the middleman.  

As a restaurateur I am unique. I see my customers' eating habits, understand farmers whom I work with, and know the suppliers, who, as traders, are motivated to maximise profit. We have a food delivery system that is extremely commercial, expensive, and has lost sight of the true goal - to obtain the best produce in order to feed ourselves.

I made it my mission to make good produce more accessible to KL's 7 million inhabitants - at first, through my restaurants; and eventually, directly, to end consumers who know enough to demand it.

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.

Greater Kuala Lumpur is a bustling metropolitan city, home to 22% of Malaysia's total population of 33.58 million, and earns about RM 263 billion, or just under half of the country's Gross National Income. It is Malaysia's capital, its financial, economic and cultural hub, and its largest city. KL's inhabitants are ethnically diverse - comprising  Malays, Chinese, Indians, minority indigenous groups and most of the country's significant expatriate community. Foreign workers (unskilled labour from South East Asian countries) are also a visible component of the city. They account for a large part of the 25% of KL households classified as urban poor. 

KL's bustle is a mere 1-3 hours' drive from the foothills of the Titiwangsa mountain range. Here, average temperatures are 3-4 deg C lower than in the city, the air clearer and pollution minimal. In these cool environs, irrigated by mountain streams, smallholders have carved pockets of unique production for fruit, vegetables, fish, and poultry.

KL's rapid development in the last 30 years was fueled by its economic boom. Government investment in infrastructure vastly improved KL's connections to other Malaysian towns. Most of KLites live an affluent lifestyle with the relatively low cost of living on a global comparison. Essential food items (rice, flour, sugar, cooking oil, gas) remain part of an economically protected basket of goods, absorbing subsidies of RM2 billion annually.  

While Malaysians are united by their love of food, they ironically lack national pride in their food. All ethnic groups enjoy a rice-based diet. Eating out is a favoured past-time - for sustenance, recreation, and social interaction. Affordable street/hawker fare is popular and synonymous with KL. But widely available cheap street food, a penchance for convenience foods, and a fondness for sugar has created a population with high rates of obesity in adults and children, leading to increased diabetes and hypertension.

Along with local fare, KL has a range of foreign food choices, Asian and Western. Cafes serving the Australian brunch (avocado on toast, poached eggs) are a current phenomenon. Expatriate communities and well-travelled Malaysians have supported the growth of Korean and Japanese restaurants and Tapas bars alongside ubiquitous cafes, steakhouses and fine-dining establishments. 

Agriculture contributes 7.1% of Malaysia's GDP (2014) and employs 11.1% of  the labour force. Half a century ago, agriculture contributed 37% the country's GDP and employed 66.2% of the labour force. Production has shifted from food crops like paddy and coconut to industrial crops like palm oil and rubber. By 2005, cash crops occupied 83.7% agricultural land, compared to 68.5% in 1960. Malaysia's industrialisation plans in the 1970s included prioritising palm oil as a cash crop in order to eradicate poverty of the majority Malay population

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.

Malaysia needs to produce more of its own food and divert exports of produce. Food imports have been rising - and population growth will push it beyond the RM 52 billion it is today. Of the food we need, we only grow 71% of rice, 66% of fruit, 40% of vegetables, 20% of ruminants in 2018. 

Economics- The growing group of ethical farmers in the vicinity of KL either face difficulties in bringing their produce to customers in KL on a regular basis, or are unable to cope with the demand from KL. There is a mismatch of produce to customers due to lack of supply infrastructure. 

These producers who are unable to reach their customers are typically smallholders,  with limited human and financial capital. There also appears to be a growing trend of educated, affluent individuals taking food production for their family in their own hands, and they find themselves without a network to sell their excess stock. 

Environment-Unchecked poor farming practices and illegal farming. A lot of KL's produce is currently supplied by Cameron Highlands (CH), 2 hours' drive north, where ambient temperatures are favourable for produce cultivation. It was reported in 2014 (The Star) that farms in CH exported 500,000 tonnes, or RM1.5 billion worth of farm produce annually, mostly from unlicensed farms. Rampant land clearing, water pollution from use of chemicals as fertilisers and pest control, as well as agricultural waste, has led to degradation of the soil in CH. 

Culture-Overall, 28% of the population is involved in agriculture and the average farmer is 60 years old. Rapid modernisation and urbanisation has rendered farming unattractive -  it is labour-intensive with no assurance of a steady income.

Policy- Right now, four-fifths of Malaysia's 5 million hectares of Agricultural land is used to cultivate oil palm, leaving a small amount for food crops. Statistics show Malaysia supplies 69% of imported leafy vegetables and 37% of imported fruits consumed by Singapore's population of 5.9 million people. (CNA, 2019). Diversion of this will make up the shortfall of what we need to feed KL.

Diet-The Malaysian Dietary Supplements Industry Status and Outlook report 2019-2020 by the Malaysian Dietary Supplement Association (MADSA) found that Malaysians do not consume enough calcium and iron-rich food like legumes, fruit, milk and vegetables. A preference for sugary drinks and convenient processed foods high in refined sugar and salt has created problems. 17.5% of the population suffers from diabetes, 17.7% is deemed obese and 30.3% have hypertension. Childhood obesity is also alarming at 11.8% for children below 18 (2015). Poor choices are being made when it comes to food - overeating is common, and food eaten lacks nutrition.

Poor food management, insufficient food cultivation in agriculture and the lack of safeguards for protection of our land and environment should make us fear the future. By 2050, the challenges of 2020 will be amplified. Currency fluctuations will put us at the mercy of higher prices and possible hunger for the nation's poor.

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

Eve's platform was created to encourage the growth of a more robust food system, leveraging on our founder's 13 years' experience in the food industry. It begins with restaurants sourcing local, supporting local farmers with ethical practices, and communicating these ideals to the guests at the restaurants. Within our restaurants, we have seen customers move towards ethically-grown local produce. We believe we are on our way to building connections between a small but growing group of like-minded restaurateurs. Increasingly, we will, through stakeholder networks, connect suppliers to restaurants, creating a community. The demand for good local produce will encourage sustainable farming practices,  and encourage more farmers to adopt such practices.

This network will be the basis of a movement supporting innovative use of local produce, both familiar and new, thereby educating KL-ites on the value of food grown a short drive away. Eve's platform will link local food producers with like-minded leaders within the food and beverage industry, building conversations, giving farmers a better understanding of demand, thereby increasing their economic opportunities. In return, restaurants will gain insights into the challenges of supply and begin to shape their menus to offer the best local produce at the best prices.

Public education is crucial to shifting diets. Community-based programs to foster a deeper appreciation for local ingredients, talents, and stories behind the meals, will be organised. Marketing campaigns will be undertaken to encourage an interest in the food we eat - its genealogy, traceability and the raison de'tre for consumption.

Together with its stakeholders, Eve will grow the group of farmers/producers within its network through  a 3-prong approach.

 i.identifying those already using sustainable methods (alternative farms) 

ii.working with farmers to encourage the adoption of sustainable methods; with a focus on converting current users of land-damaging chemical fertilisers and pesticides 

iii. encouraging and investing in the next generation of farmers by providing social, economic and educational support. 

To encourage demand, Eve will engage public institutions, chain stores and end users to shift their procurement to include local, ethical, produce.

Eve will engage the government on policy alteration, building a case for food security and the necessity of a responsible and sustainable future for food production.

Once aggregation reaches critical mass, Eve will initiate the development of a distribution and logistic network operating within the framework, coordinating delivery of produce to restaurants, homes, and business across the Klang Valley. 

Eve will propagate optimisation of logistics : sourcing efficiently to minimise transport costs and time spent in transit. This platform will be extended address the issues of food waste and managing excess produce.


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.

Food is the strongest lever to optimise human health and environmental sustainability on Earth -Eat_Lancet Report. 

With critical demand met by supply from a network of producers farming with passion, care and commitment, Malaysians will have access to a range of both native, and new produce. This will bring comforting and familiar staples on the Malaysian dining table - at home as well as in restaurants and other food outlets.  

Shifting diets. KLites' growing awareness of the positive impact that good produce can have on their overall health are eschewing convenience foods in favour of the planetary diet created by the EAT-Lancet Commission. The predominantly plant-based diet incorporates a modest amount of meat and dairy. Buyers' confidence in the integrity of the food produce sourced by the Eve network will be a cornerstone of the movement. It will be founded on  pride in the beauty of locally grown food - fresh, nutritious, and meaningful. Nutrition needs will be a clear imperative, and consumption of processed food removed. 

Eve's movement is aligned to movements by industry icons - Masterchefs whose restaurants operate alongside gardens producing exclusively for their tables are leading the way. Ideally poised to  influence KLites’ perceptions towards local produce, Eve's restauranters will  lead the way. Chefs using quality produce to produce offerings based on planetary diet, while staying true to the local palate, will be our best promoters. Purveyors of food, be they street food vendors or food manufacturers and everything in between, will be encouraged to align their products to the planetary food diet.

Eve will promote community-based education linking responsible and healthy food consumption to greater food sustainability aimed at reducing waste and a concurrent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions from food and with the UN SDGs 2030 in mind.

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

Cities are where the future happens (C40 Cities). Research released by C40 Cities in June 2019, revealed that food is amongst the biggest sources of consumption based emissions from cities. Eating a sustainable diet and avoiding food waste could cut greenhouse gas emissions from the food we eat by more than 60%. 

Eve is a private sector initiative, multi stakeholder platform that enables intervention in the six connected themes which aims to restore the KL food eco system by improving connectivity between supply and demand and encouraging a shift to sustainable diets. It is time for the private sector to lead the way in restoring and strengthening KL's food system. Eve will initiate, facilitate and coordinate activities related to restoration of the KL food eco system.

KL city is rooted in traditions, religion and customary practices which revolve around food. Abundance of food and overeating is synonymous with wealth across all cultures. The effects of rapid industrialisation over 30 has had a negative impact on the people of KL. There is an illusion of progress reflected in the many modern buildings and conveniences. There has been little progress in thought. Eating habits/social traditions have not changed. Despite the health warnings, we are dealing with diseases caused by poor food choices. There is wilful denial in the extent of damage to our land, conditions of industrial poultry and meat farming. Eve is advocating a food system that starts with improving the supply, through demand, for quality, ethical produce and also by changing the mindsets of diet. We are propagating revised recipes for traditional dishes, to allow us to continue to partake in customs and food rituals integral to societal bonds, but in a more responsible, healthful, and sustainable manner .

Food will need to influence local and national level government policies. We must begin conversing about the food we eat, its impact on our climate and soil. In KL, the focus on what we eat is at its historical peak - food blogs direct thronging hordes of foodies to cafe and restaurant openings, and the next new food fad. Food programs gain huge followings, and chefs are celebrities. Happily, interest in ethical, healthy food is also on the rise and many are choosing a life of healthfulness. Public interest and demand for organic products is high.

Eve has catalysed change via its restaurants/food outlets, educating the public through its menu and showing how the food equation can be different. Delicious food should also be good for you. How it looks, and where it comes from, should matter. 

By 2050, we hope Eve's efforts at guiding community's discussions between stakeholders will yield these results: 


Ethical farmers, community gardens, private farms who are able to supply produce to KL's 9 million inhabitants. Agroforestry as a means of soil regeneration (Trees for the Future) together with regenerative agriculture - holistic land-management practice tapping on photosynthesis in plants to sequester carbon in the soil while improving soil health; all of which will improve crop yields, water resilience, and nutrient density (Green America) and a diversification of plants for nutritive consumption.


Widespread adoption of the Planetary Diet. Innovation in the preparation of traditional food recipes.


Ethical farms has become economically sustainable and farming is recognised as a noble and ethically positive profession. Local consumption is stimulated by national pride in our produce.

A farm will look like Polyface Farm owned by Joel Salatin in Virginia. Animals are raised together with crops with no degradation caused to the pasture. Farmers can also choose to use Eve for the local distribution and storage of their produce whether they sell directly to consumers or to grocery store. Riders app will be used for fresh food delivery from the storage terminals to the grocery stores. Large lorries moving produce within the city is extremely unkind to our environment.

Urban farming as a solution for self sufficiency for KLites especially the urban poor. Innovative use of small pockets of urban space, creating urban farming opportunities : in containers, on rooftops, on unused land under electricity pylons.

Provides opportunities via community programs for knowledge transfer to those interested in food as vocation and/or as a means to financial security.


Jobs in hospitality, restaurants, agriculture, aquaculture are viewed as socially appealing, well paid in 2020 are revered in 2050. This is a result of Eve's efforts to integrate food production in the syllabus in school. Children are taught to connect and respect the environment, recognise edible plants and learn self sufficiency.


Various collaborations with technology companies and continuing development of partnerships with local talent and those with the relevant experience, knowledge and know how have created an environment of learning. Institutions of learning are investing in research and development in farming, food production, improving nutrition.

Technology is heavily in marketing and branding the ethical produce promoted by Eve. The marketplace for food now has an online marketplace, are conducted via social media and the various apps.


There is something innately wrong with a society that exports its best food products and feeds itself with inferior imported products. In 2050, imports and exports of fresh produce, meat and dairy are heavily taxed to prioritise the needs of the nation. If ever there is a need for imports, the first source should be within the region of South East Asia. A regional collaborative platform in South East Asia is set up to work together for the equitable distribution of food in the region.

In 2050, all forms of agriculture especially in and around KL should be incentive-led. The government has initiated and implemented structural reforms for equitable distribution of food. 

In 2050, a Kl resident have easy access to local produce brought in from farms not more than 1-3 hours away. I walk into a grocery store 2050 (GS 50) and it looks like this : Milk, yohgurt from local dairy farms, cheeses made by local artisans. Local, ethical produce line the grocery stores. Locally made condiments from ketchup, mayo to chutneys and pickles. Imported cereals, biscuits are all gone. Kl residents eschew processed foods with long shelf lives (usually imported) and view carbon miles associated with imported food with disdain. Imported food has lost its status symbol and local food associated with nutrition. Kl residents demand local produce as a result of public education campaigns designed and run by Eve with its panel of nutritionist, chefs, public figures. All produce are ethical produce therefore are prices have dropped as per market forces. Organic produce is 50-300% more expensive in 2020 no longer exist. Everyone in KL, rich or poor, buys only ethical produce.

A KL Urban Food Manifesto mooted by Eve has been adopted and implemented by KL local governmen to reflect its commitment to procure local produce only and to further ethical food production in all of its decision relating to the development of the city.  All buildings are required to have a rooftop garden for food production the investment of which will come from the developer of the building. Apartment dwellers are also encouraged use the arable land within apartment complex for food production. Local funds for beautification of the the city is channeled towards planting fruit bearing trees. 

Industrial, large scale farming that which allows large corporations to take advantage of smallholders' inability to connect with the marketplace is a thing of the past. Ethical farms form their own cooperative under the guidance of Eve and share information via an online platform much like OpenIDEO. Technological advances and improvement of practices are discussed and shared. Consumers can also communicate with and buy directly from farmers via this platform. Farmers are producing a list of diverse local plants that were forgotten and this is a result of collaborative effort between the chefs, ethical food companies, indigenous communities and traditional farmers.

Eve will encourage food sharing and swapping organised within a manageable area in order to improve accessibility to reduce waste and on a larger scale, Eve will also address surplus food or food wastage, repurposing overspills for distribution to the urban poor via its satellite kitchens and central production kitchen.

An area that I want to address is food storage for time of crisis whether natural or man made. This is an area where science and technology can make a difference. We can look at traditional methods of pickling, fermenting and see how that can be understood so that science can be applied to achieve certain results.

Eve is restoring a food system which used to exist in KL and many small towns across Malaysia. The delivery of food in KL is heavily reliant on the private sector which favours profits over the nation’s food security and health.  Our dream is that our movement, Eve's group of ethical farmers and consumers, will transform values within our food system. Global pressures on the environment, the destruction of soil quality due to mono-cropping and the inflexibility of large-scale farming are all reasons to return to the micro eco-system, focusing on the need which will dictate market demand and elicit a suitable producer-response.

"Just because we can ship organic lettuce from Salinas Valley, or organic cut flowers from Peru, doesnt mean we should , not if we are serious about energy and seasonality and bioregionalism. I'm afraid if you want to try one of our chickens, you're going to have to drive down here to Swoope to pick it up." (Joel Salatin in The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan)



How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Friend


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jenifer Kuah

Jun Suto Ekaterina Egorova Hi to you both, would love for some feedback on my submission. Thanks!

Photo of Ekaterina Egorova

Hi @Jenifer Kuah 
Thank you for your vision, it's amazing. Let's move to the future. How might your work today look like in 2050 if you were to upset the current trends and build a new trajectory for the future that inspires others around you to collaborate?Think about what new opportunities and challenges will appear in 2050 and how the live of your food system stakeholders might look like.

We’ve developed this Pocket Guide to support you through the final days of wrapping up your submission.This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.

Go ahead, review the check-list and final words of advice beforethe deadline.

Photo of Jenifer Kuah

Thank you Ekaterina Egorova for your valuable feedback.

View all comments