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YULAM Connect - Eat - Heal

YULAM connects urbanites with edible flora and improves peoples' health, while preserving flora’s gatekeepers from marginalization.

Photo of Eric Olmedo
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia – The National University of Malaysia

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

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

Kyoto University, Department of Agriculture, Japan Collège pratique d’ethnobotanique, France Fondation de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, France Sunway university, Malaysia INTI College, Malaysia Universiti Teknologi Mara, Malaysia Dewakan restaurant, Malaysia Kampung Chetti community Malaysia Pos Brooke Aborigine settlement, Malaysia

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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?

I live and work in Malaysia

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

South Western Peninsular Malaysia, with the states of Perak, Pahang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka. Total size: 73,329 square km2.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I have been living in Malaysia for more than 10 years. My spouse is Malaysian and we have three sons born and bread in Malaysia. As my sons represent the future, I want them to live in a harmonious healthy lifestyle leveraging responsibly on the beautiful natural resources of a preserved eco-system. 

Why is this place important to me?

Malaysia is one of the most megadiverse countries in the world. Malaysia is ranked number 12 in the world in terms of bio-diversity (Source: National Biodiversity Index, 2019). It is also a multiethnic country where the three main ethnic groups (Malays, Chinese and Indians) live rather peacefully together, notwithstanding aborigines groups from Peninsular Malaysia and the numerous ethnic minorities of East Malaysia on Borneo. 

Malaysia has not known social conflicts since May 1969 (date of the last ethnic riots in Kuala Lumpur). The country has achieved a certain degree of social cohesion since. 

Environmentally speaking, there is great room for improvement but the Malaysian government has taken lately a few decisive steps: officially stopping deforestation in East Malaysia and published oil palm concession maps.

Why did I select this place?

I selected South-western Peninsular Malaysia as this region encompasses both the problem and the solution to Malaysian public health crisis and social integration issue. Our selected place includes the capital city, where urban sedentary lifestyle and poor diet choices constrained by healthy food deserts lead to an epidemic of non communicable diseases. At the same time, the neighboring states of Pahang and Negeri Sembilan harbor indigenous communities ("Orang Asli" or local aborigines) whose traditions, ancestral knowledge and access to the forest offer the keys to remedial solutions. Additionally, creolized communities in the state of Melaka (locally termed as Peranakan) maintain a wealth of culinary heritage that includes smart and healthy accommodation of ulam.

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.


Malaysia is a multiethnic country of about 32 million population located in Southeast Asia.  Malaysia was historically a trading hub that reached its apex in the 15th century with the rise of the Melaka sultanate. Situated at the crossroads of the spice trade, prosperous Melaka soon became a target for foreign powers. Melaka was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511, and then the Dutch in 1610. In 1824, the whole Malay Peninsula fell under the British sphere of influence. Such multiple influences contributed to shape the landscape, culture, language and cuisine. Creolized communities such as the Peranakan (descendants from intermarriages between local wives and foreign traders) blossomed in the Straits Settlements.British colonial rule left some scars on the ecosystem, through rubber plantations, and intensive palm oil cultivation. Industrialization took its toll with exploitation of tin mines, the core resource for canned food which was determinant to change Malaysians’ eating habits. Malaysian food can be either inclusive or exclusive due to religious boundaries. Ethnic Malays represent 51% of the population and are constitutionally Muslims; as. Ethnic Chinese constitute less than a quarter of the population and are in majority Buddhists. Ethnic Indians represent about 7% of the population and are mostly Hindus. The rest of population is made by aborigines (Orang Asli), Peranakan communities and ethnic minorities from East Malaysia. Our selected geographical includes the capital city, and the states and Pahang , Perak and Negeri Sembilan, which are Orang Asli territory. The state of Melaka hosts the Peranakan community.  Despite social heterogeneity, there are some inclusive food spaces, such as the ubiquitous “Mamak” (a Tamil-Muslim eatery), an urban product of the industrial era that sells cheap and tasty Halal food loved by all Malaysians. Unfortunately, “Mamak food” is not the best for health; at it combines a many fried items and sweet drinks. It is in that very context that a Yulam revolution is needed.

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.



With more than 32 million population in 2019, Malaysia is forecasted to become soon a high-income country. Tertiary economy represents 62% (Malaysia, department of statistics; 2019) of the GDP, and has been constantly increasing, along with an urbanisation rate reaching today 76% (CIA World Factbook, 2019).


In 2020, the percentage of forests reaches 60.6% of the total land area, but a closer look reveals that only 11.6% are “pristine” (primary forests – source: FAO). In contrast, the arable land amounts only to 2,7% of total land, and this percentage is steadily decreasing. Deforestation has been practically put to a stop. Developers resolve now to start constructing on reclaim land, causing severe damages in terms of water pollution, coastal erosion, wetlands degradation and loss of natural resources, including food. 


Malaysia stands in a nutrition transition phase. Overweight Malaysians represent more than 30% of the total population, with an obesity rate of 16% (adults only): 1 adult upon 3 suffers from high blood pressure and the ratio of Malaysians diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (lifestyle –related diabetes) attains 22%, which is high for any given country (World Health Organization, 2018). 63 % of Malaysian adults face objectively a high risk of contracting at least one of the aforementioned NCDs (WHO, 2018). 


We can identify 4 main factors for such rampant unhealthy diet: 

1.Time constraints due to hectic urban lifestyle; 

2.Unhealthy food deserts: it is very easy to find a KFC or any other junk food but it is very challenging to find a fresh fruit other than an exported and pricy “Western” fruit. 

3. Another level is a low level of nutritional knowledge among Malaysians, body-size being often considered as an aesthetic affair rather than a health issue. 

4.Finally, eating healthy in a Malaysian city is expensive, especially for the population stratum coined as the “Bottom 40” (economically fragile). In the meantime, the “Orang Asli” (aborigenes from the Malaysian peninsula) are being slowly but surely marginalized. 


The only existing legal framework for Green technology constitutes of mere guidelines with no enforcement properties. We start working on the Yulam app to connect people with Ulam.


 In terms of public policies, there is a National Plan Action for Nutrition in Malaysia that was voted in 2016, but these are mere guidelines with no enforcement power.


Malaysia becomes an even more urbanized and stratified nation, where living and healthy is exclusive to the upper strata of society. Green technology is poorly applied to agriculture, which remains intensive and non-organic, favoring export rather than domestic consumption. Orang Asli have been assimilated and disconnected from symbiotic living with the forest: their tradition and wisdom are lost. There is no public policy enforcing healthy in school programs.

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


Key excerpts collected from interviews of our Yulam Project’s stakeholders:


“Eating healthy is not cheap”. “Ulam… isn’t it a kind of Malay foodstuff?”


“They say forest is protected but jungle shrinks every year”.“We don’t want to go through middleman to sell our plants anymore: like this, we cannot make any money”.“We don’t want to share our knowledge on Ulam if after they steal it from us and we don’t get anything”. 


“The problem with ulam is that it is not very charismatic at first sight: people think of it as a kind of salad. In order to succeed, we have to make ulam glamorous”.These verbatim express our stakeholders’ concerns. If not addressed, these will prevent the full realisation of our Yulam movement.


Refer to our visual tool “Yulam movement: futurecasting of transformation impacts”.

In each of the 5 pillars of our 2050 vision, we address the concerns raised by stakeholders. 6th pillar (policy) is not on the chart – as not existing in 2020 - but listed down here.DIETIn order to be adopted by all, Ulam must be inclusive and not be seen as a Malay culinary marker only; it must become a cross-ethnic and charismatic food. Trainers from culinary schools develop innovative, urban-palatable and yet healthy ulam-based recipes in conversation with trend-setting chefs. The Yulam diet leverages on 2 drivers:

1. Top-down: influencers chefs glamourize Ulam and are relayed by and media.

2. Bottom-up: culinary schools train new generation of foodservice practitioners, while disseminating Yulam movement in primary and secondary schools with the support of “Yulam Ambassadors’ Clubs” based in universities.


New recipes are being created revisiting Indigenous (aborigines and Malay) culture for medicinal value and Peranakan culinary heritage for inspiration and wisdom.


Yulam movement imposed pressure on both state and federal governments. Forests deforestation actually stopped, as the forest is the natural nursery of wild Ulam. ECONOMICS“Yulam label” triggers locavorism on the market. This label guarantees origin, free trade, short supply chain, organic quality at affordable prize for sold Ulam under this label. Ulam greens and seeds are patterned. Indigenous communities get a percentage from all Yulam label’s sales.


Extensive farming is chemical free and draws responsibly from forest’s Ulam, optimizing aborigines’ plots of land neighboring the forest.


Federal government now measures the impact of the Yulam movement upon inclusive social values, boosting of domestic economy, and betterment of public health. Outcomes: a national health plan for schools has been decreed. Tax incentives are given to organic Ulam growers. Federal laws protect way of life and heritage of indigenous people and Peranakan communities.

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.


Reference is made to the Yulam Disruptive Cycle chart.

By the year 2050, YULAM has evolved from a sustainable and regenerative food system to solve a public health crisis into a holistic lifestyle. YULAM contributed to substantial decrease Non Communicable Diseases’ statistics. Ulam is part of the new normal and present in all meals, including school canteens and hospital cafeterias.YULAM proponents have come to see YULAM as a counter cultural project in response to food industrialization and uberization. Malaysian urbanites tend to reach out to Ulam sites and socialize either with land stewards (indigenous communities) or Ulam curators (rural Malays and Peranakan social groups). The former and the latter are now socially integrated as Ulam gatekeepers. As the Yulam movement gained scalability, knowledge economy about Ulam became more sophisticated. Ulam greens are now categorized: 

•Grade 1 Ulam can be found in supermarkets and city shops: variety is minimal yet greens are organic and bear generic medicinal properties;

•Grade 2 Ulam can be found in wet markets in rural areas and at the periphery of the cities: range of available greens is more extensive and medicinal applications more specific;

•Grade 3 Ulam can be located only into designated rural areas: acquiring this ulam requires a visit into indigenous settlements;

•Grade 4 Ulam is rare, as it has just been patterned after recent discovery through foraging. Attending a workshop within a given indigenous settlement is required before purchase.This grading is reflected into consumer behaviour: from responsible buyers in supermarkets to engaged consumers who cycle to indigenous settlements and buy seeds to plant Ulam in their own backyard. 

YULAM extensive farming has reduced dependency on imported goods and boosted GDP. Blossoming of short supply chains contributed to reduce carbon footprint while improving way of life for indigenous communities.

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


In Southeast Asia, cuisines are found to display their own versions of “salad”. In Malaysia, ethnic Malays label their own version of salad as ulam, Ulam is a Malay word for any vegetable that is eaten raw, blanched or lightly boiled, and eaten with rice”; The application of the word ulam for this paper will be as a Malay idiom, referring to edible flora consisting of shoots, fruits, stems, flowers, roots and leaves of naturalized or native plants incorporated. Ulam species refer to indigenous varieties such as petai (Parkia speciose hassk.), while naturalized plants may consist of varieties that were introduced to Malaysia via traders of early years, colonization and migration which includes kaduk (Piper sarmentosum roxb.) from Indonesia, daun pegaga (Centella asiatica) from India and ulam raja (Cosmos caudatus) of tropical America (Samy, Sugumaran, & Lee, 2014). Much of these varieties thrived in Malaysia’s climatic and soil conditions, needing little or no care at all; becoming “wild” species covering both rural and urban landscapes. In the dish “otak otak” (a Peranakan steamed spicy fish mousse) and “perut ikan” (fish stomach soup), kaduk leaves are used both for flavor and texture; Penang’s assam laksa (rice noodles in fish broth) consists of belacan (shrimp paste) and daun kesum (polygonum). All these dishes reflect the dual culture and terroir of Malaysia. Holy basil from India known to the Malays as daun kemangi commonly used in many Malay dishes such as nasi ulam (salad rice). 

This indicates that the local ethnic Malay food scene adopted imported ingredients into its everyday cuisine. Other ethnic groups also use greens echoing their original homeland.Such ethnic-cum-cultural fragmentation constitutes an important obstacle to the dissemination of Ulam into Malaysian society. Such fragmentation is directly linked to the social fabric of Malaysia in 2020, where ethnicity is assigned at birth, as well as religion for the demographically dominant ethnic group.

A future where society is still divided along ethnic and religious lines would prevent effective dissemination of the Yulam movement, as Ulam is traditionally associated with Malay and Peranakan culinary cultures.


In Malaysia, rapid urbanization (78% in 2020) and industrialization had progressively led to a disconnection between nature and culture. In peninsular Malaysia, about 5.64 millions hectares were dedicated to palm oil plantations. Remaining forest areas are contained as national parks or reservation lands with regulated access, contributing to museification of local biotope and further disconnection with edible wild plants for young urban generations. In retrospect, biodiversity conservation is the key tool to nutritional development, as it is the base on which civilization is built upon. Malaysia had to progressively looking towards uncovering measures of sustainable nutrition to overcome these constraints and yet cater for the expanding population in the country.The percentage of forests estimated at 60.6% in 2020 has increased slightly reaching 62% due to reforestation. This reforestation was made possible by more responsible and sustainable practice of palm oil cultivation, thanks notably to international pressure.The federal average ratio of arable land was 2.7%. By 2050, thanks to syntropic agro forestry, this percentage has doubled for our selected geographical area.   


Ulam tends to possess a much lower calorie and glycemic index compared to commercially cultivated vegetables, thereby offsetting the negative effects of both malnutrition and obesity (Darkwa and Darkwa, 2013). The high fiber content found in Ulma greens help consumers fulfill their satiety, thus reducing unnecessary eating and also prevents blood sugar spikes. The high antioxidant activity of these plants has also been interlinked with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (Keatinge et al., 2010).  Studies done on traditional Malaysian vegetables show that they are more superior and have higher iron, Vitamin D and calcium content compared to cultivated vegetables.  In spite of having a much lower calorie and glycemic index compared to the vegetables commonly consumed among Malaysians.The diversity observed in Ulam embodies the base of heterogeneity that is needed to negate the deleterious effects brought about by commercial food, reducing hidden hunger issues and imparting nutrients, taste and texture frequently absent from repetitive carb-rich diets typical of altered diets. This trend is global, but is particularly worrying when combined with poor micro nutrition. This ‘hidden hunger’ – enough calories, but insufficient vitamins and minerals – affected severely Malaysia in 2020, leading weight to the fact that bio-fortification of rice and other staple crops were no longer as advantageous as methods of tackling nutrient insufficiency. With climate change becoming more ubiquitous and erratic in 2050, there was an obligation to find plants that are resilient and can withstand the harsh changes yet protect the environment (Padulosi et al., 2013). Ulam greens fit this role perfectly, being either native or naturalized plants, and having built their resilience of Malaysian for centuries at minima.


By 2050, Yulam-type of syntropic agroforestry became a benchmark and has been replicated in other states, including in East Malaysia (Borneo island) where it bears a different name, linking it to local ethnic minorities’ culture, as Aborigines dwell exclusively in Peninsular Malaysia. The Yulam economy set a trend, which in turn triggered the mushrooming of alternative movements drawing on permaculture or on urban agriculture as far as the capital city is concerned; these alternative movements stem from a virtuous circle that was indeed set in motion by the Yulam movement.Consequently the place of tertiary economy within the Growth Domestic Product regressed from 62% in 2020 to 58% due to the rise of micro-agriculture linked to the Yulam social economy system. In 2019, Malaysian consumed about 3.5 bil worth of imported vegetables and fruits. The country was then self-sufficient at 89.9% (Source: Malaysian Department of Agriculture, 2020) and was exporting specifically vegetables that cannot grow in Malaysia due to the nature of the soil and climate, i.e.: large onions, dry chillies and sawi (brown mustard).The Yulam movement advocating for locavorism, the imports gradually diminished, leading to a ratio of self-sufficiency of almost 95%.


The publication of Statistics on Causes of Death, Malaysia 2017 presented data on the principle causes of death in Malaysia for the year 2015 and 2016: There were 162.2 thousand deaths recorded in 2016, an increase of 4.1% as compared to 2015; Coronary heart diseases was the principle cause of death in 2015 and 2016 (source: Malaysia Department of Statistics, 2018). The scenario indicates that Malaysia is increasingly becoming susceptible to numerous non-communicable diseases (“NCDs”), also known as chronic diseases, which tend to last for a long duration and often result from a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioral factors. Common types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, cancers, diabetes; notwithstanding chronic respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma (source: World Health Organization, 2010). According to Malaysia-World Health Organization’s Country Cooperation Strategy 2016-2020 initiative, the main disease burden has shifted in recent years to NCDs, which accounts for 73% of all deaths in Malaysia. A report on NCD risk factors in 2015 by WHO records an alarming rate of 47.7% overweight and obesity, 33.5% physical inactivity, 30.3% adult hypertension and 17.5% diabetes based on studies done in Malaysia (source: World Health Organization, 2015), as well an acute lack of vitamin D.As Malaysia is a tropical country, this seems paradoxical as Vitamin D is obtained primarily from exposure to sunlight. This is one consequence of consuming a diet that is insufficient in antioxidants and micronutrients, such as vegetables, legumes and fruits, which are vital for normal growth and development.In 2050, The adoption of Yulam lifestyle society by the majority leads to exponential growth of outdoor activities, thus contributing to solve the problem of Vitamin D deficit: one of these activities is eco-tourism in Orang Asli settlements, which are now prosperous.

NCDs have reduced substantially and now account for less 45% of all deaths in Malaysia.Sociologically speaking, the ethnic marker has been removed from the census, creating a new generation of Malaysians without hyphenated citizenship. Secularism gained ground and one identity is now defined essentially but one’s lifestyle and consumer choices. The category of Ulam (see above) people eat and curate shape their social identity more accurately than the old concepts of class, gender and religion.


The former Yulam transdisciplinary laboratory initially founded at the National University of Malaysia has split and evolved into a private corporation. Its core purpose in 2050 is to run nutritional and chemical tests that are part of the protocol leading to the issuance of the “Yulam label”.The Yulam app used in 2020 was designed at first for Ulam geolocation; Ulam-based recipes and an avatar feature were then added for to response to consumer needs and also to personalize the usage of the app.By 2050, the Yulam app has evolved to further personalization while integration more holistic lifestyle features. The Yulam App Company has now joint ventured with a corporation that designs and produces medical/fitness apps, in order to position Yulam as specific response to health issues and fitness deficits.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Team (7)

Eric's profile
Alice's profile
Alice Wetley

Role added on team:

"Develops cultural mediation contents for Yulam app."

rachel's profile
rachel thomas

Role added on team:

"Ethnologist. Works with Aborigines. Expertise on ethnoscience and forgotten ulam foraged from Malaysian jungle."

David's profile
David Neo

Role added on team:

"Film studies scholar and member of the Peranakan-Chinese community. Records both Peranakan intangible cultural heritage and the contribution of Peranakan community to the accommodation of ulam in their culinary system."

LINDA's profile

Role added on team:

"Visual anthropologist and award-winning film director. Develop documentaries (from script to directing) on Malaysian aborigines and creolized communities about their symbiotic relationship with ulam."

Kean Buan's profile
Kean Buan Tan

Role added on team:

"Culinary arts trainer well versed in both knowledge on ulam and traditional Chinese medicine. Designs healthy ulam-based recipes that are palatable and affordable for urbanites, especially younger generations."

François's profile
François Couplan

Role added on team:

"World-renowned ethnobotanist specialized in edible plants. Supervises universal taxonomy of edible plants together with their culinary usage and medicinal properties."

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Attachments (3)

Who Are The Chettis Of Melaka_ And What Is Hindu-Peranakan Cuisine_ _ Malaysia Tatler.pdf

This is a recent press article that analyses Chetti culture and cuisine. This media release draws on the action-research work we have been doing with the Chetti community (Peranakan-Indians of Melaka).

The Ulam School Shines The Spotlight On A Forgotten Malaysian Salad _ Malaysia Tatler.pdf

This is a recent press article featuring the Ulam School, which is a sub component of our Yulam project.


This document recapitulates the philosophy, the aesthetic charter as well as the functionalities and features of our Yulam app project.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jun Suto

Eric Olmedo  Love how you are looking the power of a healthy diet and biomimicry (syntropic agroforestry) for a strong solution for 2050 food systems!

Photo of Eric Olmedo

Hi Jun, Thank you for your kind words. You're right about biomimicry: we are not reinventing the wheel, as jungle produce offer all what people need to live a healthy life. We are just designing a system to make these natural resources accessible, scalable and sustainable. We also want to make sure that these resources' gatekeepers (the indigenous communities) benefit from it, economically and socially.

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