Diving deep into Malay: Lessons from the mission

By Sharleene Kay Alayan, Food Systems Coordinator

Posted March 29, 2022

In crafting a food systems solution, the journeys of the local stakeholders take center stage. Their context shapes the design; thus, it is crucial to meet them where they are. This guided the mission conducted by the UNDP Philippines Accelerator Lab (ALab) team in its exploration of the Malay food systems.

Malay is home to Boracay Island, a premier tourist destination in the Philippines. Ranked as the second most beautiful beach globally by Conde Nast Traveler in 2021, Boracay attracts local and international tourists, contributing to a vibrant local and national economy. The island’s stature makes it a priority economy for the local and national governments. However, this did not exempt the municipality of Malay from experiencing disruptions. In 2018, the entire Boracay island was necessarily closed for six months due to rehabilitation. The pandemic happened and became a repeat when it was just getting back to its feet after reopening.

Said disruptions provided a similar trend. When tourism is down, locals go back to basics – food – to survive. And while it is through farming and fishing that they were able to access food for themselves and their families, this raises the question of how might we highlight food in a tourism economy as a sustainable and resilient means for recovery? After all, last year’s UNSG Food Systems Summit highlighted the importance of addressing food systems in the achievement of the SDGs.

It was in this context that the Malay local government expressed willingness to collaborate with UNDP in strengthening its food systems in November 2021. Initial conversations with sector representatives uncovered pain points and local solutions that opened opportunities for UNDP through the ALab team to dive deeper. The team embarked on an exploration last February which consisted of a rapid ethnography and co-design workshop. The rapid ethnography involved interviews with food producers and end-users in understanding better their experiences as part of the food system. Findings from the rapid ethnography then served as inputs to the workshop.

Meanwhile, the co-design workshop gathered key representatives from the government (local, provincial and regional), business sector, and civil society organizations. The three-day activity became a journey of learning more about the current food systems, prioritizing critical issues, and pitching solutions. It was also an opportunity to share about global and national developments coming out of the 2021 National Food Systems Summit, the overview of which was provided by the Food and Agriculture Office (FAO), setting the frame and opportunities to address food issues at the local level.

Facilitating the interaction through foresight and systemic design with activity participants surfaced their common aspirations that the pandemic recovery brings the locals a better Malay and Boracay. In the food systems context, they meant reinvigorating the economy that enables local farmers and fisherfolks.

The participants also shared that the disruptions crystallized the need to balance priorities, especially food in a tourism economy. In governance, this might mean enabling a system for stakeholders to convene, collaborate, and inform decision points on food systems.

In the face of disruptions, agriculture remained resilient. Most tourism workers went farming and fishing to feed their families. Women also took lead roles from establishing community gardens to marketing and distributing products through cooperation and networking. The participants believed that these shifts are already paving the way to recovery.

Malay Municipal Mayor Frolibar Bautista concluded the workshop with a message of support to the Malay Food Systems initiative and an expression of thanks to the UNDP Philippines ALab and the workshop participants for helping strengthen the municipality’s food systems.

The ALab team is currently consolidating the solutions pitched during the workshop and will present the portfolio to the Malay stakeholders and possible partners  interested in embarking on this learning journey of bringing these experiments to life.

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