Agribusiness forum sparks change

“Tourists don’t just want to see Vanuatu – they want to taste it!” says Myriam Malao, president of the Port Vila Market cooked food vendor association in Vanuatu’s capital.

Bursting with ideas after attending the Pacific Agri-Tourism Forum in Apia in August, Mrs Malao is determined that Mamas (women market vendors) will be a big part of Vanuatu’s tourism future. Ms Malao’s attendance at the Agribusiness Forum was facilitated by the UN Women Markets for Change project and funded by the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

Mrs Malao says agri-tourism is about linking agriculture to the produce markets and groups such as the Chef’s Association and the cooked food vendor association café known as ‘Local Restaurant’. She says if there are opportunities for market Mamas to come onto this stage they will do this. “We are ready to do this. I won’t give up. I will fight for this” said Mrs Malao.

Mrs Malao says the agri-tourism forum gave her many ideas and the confidence to follow through on ideas she has been brewing. She has been holding extra meetings with market vendors since attending the Forum.

“I’ve never held meetings quite so regularly. I started with the farmers and told them I’ve been to Apia market and Nadi market, and our market in Port Vila is the best. Everyone who attended the Forum said ours is the best market because it’s organic. So I told the vendors ‘Let’s do something. Let’s work on a plan!’” she said.

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Mrs Malao has since showed Port Vila’s fruit and vegetable vendors how to display their fresh produce so customers are more attracted to buy it. She said as a result vendors have re-organized everything and there is now more space in the otherwise crowded market.

Mrs Malao said before going to the Forum she had already thought about creating a cook book to promote Vanuatu’s unique cooking techniques and specialty dishes. After meeting Chef Robert Oliver, a well-known Pacific chef who spoke at the Forum, she is now working on bringing her idea to reality: “I was thinking, I’m really no-one to ask him [Chef Oliver] but I kept asking him questions and he just said ‘You can do this with the Mamas,’ so I took courage,” she said. Mrs Malao has already begun sourcing funding and supporters to help with production of the book.

Mrs Malao hopes to take forward in the Port Vila market since attending the Forum include fruit festivals celebrating each season; reducing the amount of rice sold in the Local Restaurant and replacing it with more local root crops; gradually changing the materials used in the Local Restaurant to natural materials such as flax instead of plastic; and developing a site at the market where vendors can take turns demonstrating how traditional dishes are cooked in the villages around Vanuatu.

Ms Malao says she learned many ideas from Forum attendees from all around the Pacific but in particular from tourism experts from the Caribbean as that region already has a well-established cruise market that focusses on celebrating the local food.

“When it was given to me I thought ‘why did you give me this book? But now I understand it. It is now very precious to me. This is one of the things that makes me strong. There are many sacrifices. I learned many things and my Mum was my teacher. Now I want to give back to the Mamas.

As well as being President of Local Restaurant – the Cooked Food Association at the Port Vila Market, Mrs Malao is also the market vendor representative to the Port Vila Market Board, President of 21 Jump Street Women’s Association, a cooking trainer with Red Cross, TVET and Oxfam, a Story Teller and translator with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre.

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Image: Myriam Malao, Local Restaurant, Port Vila Market 2016
Image: Myriam Malao and staff at the Local Restaurant, Port Vila Market, Vanuatu
Photo credit: UN Women/Murray Lloyd

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