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Far from Ukraine, Indonesia’s poor can’t get cooking oil | Business and Economy



Medan, Indonesia – Each day, Siti Rohani fries hundreds of traditional Indonesian snacks at her roadside stall in Medan, North Sumatra, including three kinds of doughnuts, fried tempeh and tofu, banana fritters, spring rolls and curry puffs.

All that frying means Rohani goes through a lot of cooking oil – up to five litres (169 fluid ounces) a day.

The only problem for Rohani is that cooking oil is becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of amid chronic shortages across the archipelago.

After soaring prices of crude palm oil caused prices of cooking oil to spike more than 50 percent, Indonesia’s government in February capped the price of a litre of oil at 14,000 Indonesian rupees ($0.93). To limit shortages, authorities also began limiting customers to 2 litres (68 fluid ounces) of oil per purchase.

“I had to go all over town from one place to another to buy another litre or two of oil, or to find out that the next place had sold out completely,” Rohani told Al Jazeera. “It just made everything even harder.”

The price cap, which has since been lifted, also had another undesired side effect, according to Posman Sibuea, a lecturer in food technology at Santo Thomas Catholic University in Medan.

“What happened was that cooking oil vendors didn’t want to sell their oil at such a low price, so they started hoarding it,” he told Al Jazeera. “Actually, there are stocks of cooking oil all over the country, but we just don’t know where they are.”

In recent months, the price of crude palm oil used has surged by up to 40 percent, the result of a confluence of factors, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which supplies the majority of Europe’s sunflower oil. With the Ukrainian sunflower oil supply disrupted by the conflict, demand for other oils like palm oil has soared.

The COVID-19 pandemic also affected harvests in palm oil-producing countries such as neighbouring Malaysia, as migrants who usually work on the plantations were locked out of the country.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of palm oil in the world, and production in the country far outweighs domestic demand. Government regulations, however, only require that 20 percent of production stays at home, meaning the rest can be exported abroad.

There is also the issue of who actually owns Indonesia’s oil palms.

palm fruit
Prices of palm oil have surged as much as 40 percent since the start of the year [File: Supri /Reuters]

“The massive problem with palm oil is that the majority of oil palm plantations in Indonesia are owned by only a few people, maybe 20 at most,” Uli Arta Siagian, a forestry and plantations campaigner at environmental non-profit WALHI, told Al Jazeera.

“These people don’t just own the plantations either, but also the entire industry infrastructure such as the factories and everything else. So they have a monopoly on the industry and a monopoly on the price of palm oil.”

Indonesia produced 44.8 million tonnes of crude palm oil in 2020, according to data from the Indonesian Bureau of Statistics (BPS), 60 percent of which was produced by private companies and 34 percent by individual farmers.

The remaining 6 percent was produced by state-owned companies.

That year, Indonesia exported more than $18bn worth of palm oil, according to BPS data.

“In Indonesia, cooking oil factories don’t usually produce their own palm oil, so they have to buy it from oil palm producers in the form of crude palm oil,” said Sibuea.

“Producers can sell the palm oil at whatever price they want, and as palm oil prices increased globally, it became more difficult for cooking oil factories to buy the raw product. That is one of the key problems, this connection between the palm oil plantations and the cooking oil factories.”

In mid-March, the Indonesian government decided to more than double the maximum export levy on palm oil exports to $375 per tonne as part of a plan to subsidise prices and distribute more than 200 million litres (6763 fluid ounces) of the product across the country each month.

On Tuesday, authorities announced the launch of a cash transfer scheme offering handouts of 300,000 Indonesian rupees ($20) to help lower-income citizens and restauranteurs purchase oil.

Rohani said she had heard about the scheme but was unclear about the details.

“I’d like to apply, of course, if I fulfil the criteria,” she said.

Sign in Indonesian shop limiting cooking oil purchases
Indonesia has limited purchases of cooking oil to two litres per person [Courtesy of Aisyah Llewellyn]

Amid the shortages, some enterprising Indonesians have also taken to buying up as much cooking oil as possible and selling it on the black market at highly inflated prices to desperate customers. In East Kalimantan, a province in Indonesian Borneo, two women died after queueing for hours in the hot sun to get their hands on the meagre supplies of cooking oil available at local mini-markets.

Some Indonesians have questioned why the country is so dependent on cooking oil, including, most prominently, former Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

“The problem is not about cooking oil being expensive. I’ve stopped to think, do ladies just fry their food every day? To the point that they’re fighting about cooking oil?” Soekarnoputri said last month during an event about childhood stunting.

“Is there no way to boil or steam or make rujak [Indonesia fruit salad]? Those are Indonesian dishes. Why are people complicating this?”

To prove her point, Seokarnoputri’s party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, held a cooking demonstration in Jakarta several days later during which chefs prepared boiled, steamed and grilled dishes while recordings of the former president giving cooking and nutrition advice played in the background.

Siagian, the environmental campaigner, said she agreed that Indonesia has become too reliant on cooking oil.

“If we depend on just one product so much, we are very vulnerable, and handing out cash is not going to solve a complex problem about a sector of the economy that is dominated by private companies,” she said.

“We need an intervention.”

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In India, waiting for the monsoon | Business and Economy News



Dhis, India–On a searingly hot May afternoon, in Dhis village in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, Matadin Meena, a 72-year-old farmer, looked up at the sky and sighed. “Everything depends on the rain, and the harvest,” he said, wiping a bead of sweat from his creased forehead. “I want to know how much it will rain in my village, and when. If there is a good monsoon here, and I can sell my crop at a good price, I will build another room in my house.”

In India, monsoon is as much prose as poetry. It excites economists and equity markets as well as artists, writers, musicians. For millions of India’s farmers, like Meena, the summer monsoon, which typically arrives in June and continues till September, is life and livelihood. More than 75 percent of India’s annual rainfall occurs during this period. Monsoon rains are critical for India’s agriculture, the largest employer of workers in the country.

Farmer Meena has seen the monsoon raise and ruin hopes many times in the past five decades. Last year, it rained heavily towards the end of the monsoon when the pearl millet crop had just been harvested, he said. “The entire crop got spoilt.”

The first forecast by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on the southwest monsoon season rainfall has raised hopes this year. A statement by the government agency which tracks weather developments across India noted that the “Southwest monsoon seasonal (June to September) rainfall over the country as a whole is most likely to be normal (96 to 104 percent of Long Period Average (LPA)” between 1971 and 2020. The likely figure is 99 percent of the LPA.

What attracted a lot of media attention in India this year was the IMD’s new normal LPA of 87cm of rainfall. It is a centimetre less than the 1961-2010 LPA. That may not be much by itself, but it confirms a receding trend. The LPA for 1951-2000 was 89cm.

“There is nothing unusual about the revised definition of what constitutes average rainfall in the country. It is routine revision. Every 10 years, we do it. This is regular international practice,” Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, the director general of IMD, told Al Jazeera.

In the countryside, more than the LPA or the “new normal”, the greater worry is about monsoon variability and how it will play out in different parts of the country.

“Focusing on all-India rainfall can be a distraction because this country is huge, and there are huge variations in rainfall between different parts of the country during the monsoon,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and a lead author in the latest series of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

“If you look at the regional distribution of rainfall, there is a clear decrease since 1950 in different parts of the country. The decline is significant in parts of north and central India. This is due to climate change and global warming, particularly in the Indian Ocean,” Koll added.

The drop in total rainfall comes even as extreme rainfall events are increasing, including a three-fold rise in extreme rainfall events since 1950, as well as more short bursts of intense rainfall combined with longer stretches of dry days during the monsoon season, he added.

This has knock-on effects, starting with problems of water management. “We need modest rainfall spread through a longer period,” said Koll. Instead, there are bouts of heavy rainfall that lead to flooding and leave little time for the water to percolate underground. As the water table falls, more and more bore wells are drilled to pump out whatever water is left, eventually affecting water and food security.


Crucial forecast for farmers

The IMD rainfall forecast helps farmers make the first critical decision – what crops to grow this season and how to allocate land accordingly.

“We are not weather gods. Accuracy of weather forecasts can never be 100 percent. But the monsoon forecasts are useful. And not only to farmers but also to policymakers in India,” said V Geethalakshmi, an agro-meteorologist and vice-chancellor of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

The forecasts enable India’s numerous government-run Agro-Meteorological Field Units to offer advisories to farmers via text messages to help them make weather-sensitive decisions linked to sowing/transplanting crops, scheduling irrigation, timely harvesting of crops, among others, Geethalakshmi said.

And for corporates

In a pandemic-battered economy now grappling with massive supply-chain disruptions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many are pinning hopes on “normal” rainfall this year.

“As we try to emerge from a difficult period, we want to see the engines firing on all cylinders and rain is an important element in that,” said Harsh Goenka, chairman of RPG Enterprises, a large Indian conglomerate. “India’s rural economy remains a key barometer and I am hopeful it will do well.”

Companies in the consumer-packaged goods sector currently grappling with sluggish demand also seek a good monsoon as 36 percent of the country’s demand for these products comes from rural areas, Abneesh Roy, executive director, Edelweiss Securities, told Al Jazeera.

“The monsoon forecast is very important” especially as consumer sentiment in villages has already taken a knock because of the hike in prices of diesel and fertilisers and packaged goods, Roy pointed out.

‘Rainfall variability’

According to the IMD, there is a 60 percent chance that the monsoon will be normal or above normal, which weather experts say is good. These are called “probability forecasts”.

“Science tells us that the prospect of bountiful monsoon rains (this year) is pretty high because of many factors,” said K J  Ramesh, former director-general of IMD. But, he warned, “We might be seeing rainfall variability.”

A “normal” monsoon does not mean it will be good for every farmer. It is not just the quantum of rainfall that matters but its geographical spread and timeliness. Farmers need just the right amount of rainfall at the right time.

Farmer Matadin Meena on a charpoy in his house in Rajasthan, India
Farmer Meena (pictured) in Dhis village wants to know if the rainfall will be adequate in his village or not [File: Patralekha Chatterjee/Al Jazeera]

Rajasthan’s Alwar district is semi-arid, but 45-year-old farmer Ram Kumar lost money due to excess rainfall that destroyed his pearl millet crop last July. “I lost Rs 60,000 ($774). This year, I hope there won’t be a repeat.” he said.

Kumar follows the monsoon forecasts but wants more “local” information. “I want to know if it will rain, how heavily, when exactly and for how long in Babedi, my village. I want to know if it will rain equally in July, August, September this year. How does it help me to know if there will be a normal monsoon in Alwar, because even within a district, rainfall is not the same everywhere? Even in Babedi, part of the village got heavy rain when the other part was dry.”

Need for local information

This goes to the heart of a current challenge facing rainfall forecasters and policy analysts.

More than 75 per cent of Indian districts, home to more than 638 million people, are now extreme climate event hotspots. The pattern of extreme events such as flood-prone areas becoming drought prone and vice-versa has changed in at least 40 percent of Indian districts.

The IMD is equipped today to provide a range of short to medium to long-term monsoon forecasts. It also provides all-India district rainfall statistics. But it does not offer the kind of granular local information that many farmers are seeking in the face of erratic weather.

But some Indian researchers are starting to fill that gap.

The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a New Delhi-based think-tank, for example, is currently researching how monsoon variability is changing in every district in India as part of the granular Climate Risk Atlas that it is developing.

The results are expected in July this year, says Abinash Mohanty, programme lead in the Risks and Adaptation team at CEEW.

Such mapping of hot spots and granular risk assessment is not yet planned at the village level, but district-level monsoon variability data, including excessive rain, can help policymakers assess risks to not only agriculture, but also critical infrastructure like power plants, schools, hospitals and vulnerable populations.

A normal monsoon could still have “episodes of abnormality such as floods, long periods of nil/scanty rains, shift in the rainfall pattern etc,” said Sridhar Balasubramanian of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Faculty, IDP Climate Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. “Unfortunately, we cannot do much at this point since weather/climate dynamics is a beast and is yet to be tamed … This is likely to get worse in the coming decades and we still do not have a robust solution.”

As pre-monsoon showers and thunderstorms struck parts of northern India this week, bringing some relief from the corrosive heat, and floods continued to wreak havoc in Assam and India’s North East, farmer Meena of Dhis village waits anxiously to see whether even in a normal monsoon year, there will be too much or too little rain in his village.

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Texas school shooting live news: Biden calls for US action | Gun Violence News



  • At least 19 children and two adults have been killed after a gunman opens fire in a Texas primary school.
  • The attack took place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a small community about 135km (85 miles) west of San Antonio in the southern part of the state.
  • The gunman, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was shot dead by police.
  • US President Joe Biden tells Americans it is time to take on the gun lobby.

Here are all the latest updates:

Family grieves teacher Eva Mireles who was killed in shooting

Eva Mireles has been named as the teacher who was killed in the shooting.

She was trained in bilingual and special education, and taught children of nine and 10 years old, according to a report from Reuters news agency.

“My beautiful cousin! Such a devastating day for us all! My heart is shattered into a million pieces,” Cristina Arizmendi Mireles wrote on Facebook.

In a short biography posted on the school district’s website, Mireles had written she had “a supportive, fun, and loving family” including her husband, her college graduate daughter, and “three furry friends.”

Her husband, Ruben Ruiz, is a police officer at the school district’s police force, the agency investigating the shootings.

Her aunt, Lydia Martinez Delgado, grieved for her niece in a Facebook post.

“I’m furious that these shootings continue. These children are innocent. Rifles should not be easily available to all. This is my hometown, a small community of less than 20,000. I never imagined this would happen to especially loved ones,” Martinez Delgado said in a statement.

McConnell says ‘horrified and heartbroken’ at Uvalde shooting

The Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has tweeted his shock at the shooting in Uvalde.

He says the entire country “is praying” for all those affected.

He doesn’t mention anything about the need for gun reform.

Attacked acted alone, killed grandmother before heading to school

The gunman’s motive is not yet clear.

It seems Ramos was a local man and killed his grandmother before heading to the school with two military-style rifles he had bought to celebrate his birthday.

“That was the first thing he did on his 18th birthday,” State Senator Roland Gutierrez was reported as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Ramos had hinted on social media that an attack could be coming, Gutierrez added, noting that “he suggested the kids should watch out.”

The school district’s police chief, Pete Arredondo, said that the attacker acted alone.

A girl (left) and boy (right) hold flowers in the aftermath of the Robb Elementary School shooting
Children stand outside the Ssgt Willie de Leon Civic Center, where students of the Robb Elementary School after a gunman went on a rampage in their school [Marco Bello/Reuters

Another child dies from injuries after Ulvade shooting

It seems the death toll on the shooting has been revised.

News agencies, citing local officials, say at least 19 children were killed as the gunman went from classroom to classroom at the school.

The attacker also killed two adults, one of them confirmed to be a teacher.

The school had about 600 children aged between five and 12 years old.

‘Enough is enough’: Gun control activists demand action

Hollye Dexter, a long-term advocate for gun control, has told Al Jazeera that politicians in Congress who continue to back the gun lobby after so many mass shootings should be held to account, singling out Republicans in particular.

“This should not have happened,” she said. “Enough is enough. We cannot be polite anymore. We’ve got to call these people out for not standing up to the NRA.”

Nancy Pelosi joins call for legislative action after ‘monstrous’ shooting

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it’s time for Congress to join together to enact gun control legislation after what she described as the “monstrous” shooting in Ulvade.

“Across the nation, Americans are filled with righteous fury in the wake of multiple incomprehensible mass shootings in the span of just days,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“This a crisis of existential proportions – for our children and for every American.  For too long, some in Congress have offered hollow words after these shootings while opposing all efforts to save lives.  It is time for all in Congress to heed the will of the American people and join in enacting the House-passed bipartisan, commonsense, life-saving legislation into law.”

Women console each other after the Ulvade shooting
People react outside the Civic Center following the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Nancy Pelosi said the attack was “monstrous” [Dario Lopez-Mills/AP Photo]

Kamala Harris says it’s time for ‘courage’

Vice President Kamala Harris has called on the US to have the “courage to take action” and prevent a repeat of the mass shooting at Uvalde.

‘Why are we here if not to solve a problem as existential as this?’: Senator Chris Murphy

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy has called on his fellow politicians to take action on guns.

“What are we doing?” the Democrat asked on the floor of the House.

“There are more mass shootings than days of the year. Our kids are leaving in fear every time they set foot in a classroom because they fear they will be next. Why are we here if not to solve a problem as existential as this?”


Biden says time to take on the gun lobby

Biden made impassioned comments calling for United States elected representatives to pass ‘common sense’ gun control legislation.

“When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby,” he asked. “When in God’s name are we going to do what we know in our gut needs to be done.”

Biden noted that it had been 10 years since he had been to Sandy Hook where 26 people were killed, 20 of them children.

US president Joe Biden addresses the nation with his wife behind him
President Joe Biden pauses as he speaks about the mass shooting at the Robb Elementary School from the Roosevelt Room at the White House as first lady Jill Biden listens [Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

‘I’m sick and tired. We must act’: Biden

Biden opens his speech with his voice sounding as if it was about to break, talking of the children who had watched their friends die “as if on a battlefield” and parents who will never see their children again.

“[These] parents will never be the same again,” he said. “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped out.”

Biden, himself, lost an infant daughter in a car crash and his adult son to cancer.

He says it’s time for the US to take action.

“I’m sick and tired. We have to act. Don’t tell me we cannot have an impact on this carnage.”

Joe Biden begins his address


Texas shooting follows record year for attacks in 2021

The latest shooting comes just a week after a white gunman killed 10 Black people in a racist attack on a Buffalo supermarket.

The FBI has said 2021 was the worst year ever for gun attacks.

The Reuters news agency has compiled a list of some of the most serious recent shootings.

New York: April 12 – In one of the most violent attacks in the history of New York’s transit system, 23 people were wounded when a 62-year-old man activated a smoke bomb and opened fire on the subway. He was taken into custody the next day.

Oxford, Michigan: November 30, 2021Four students were killed, and seven other people were wounded after a teenager opened fire at a high school in Oxford, Michigan.

Indianapolis: April 16, 2021 – A former FedEx employee who had been under psychiatric care shot eight people dead and injured several others at an Indiana facility of the shipping company before taking his own life.

Los Angeles: March 31, 2021 – Four people were killed, one of them a child, in a shooting at an office building in suburban Los Angeles before the suspect was taken into custody.

Boulder, Colorado: March 22, 2021 – A mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, left 10 people dead, including a police officer.

Atlanta, Georgia: March 16, 2021 – Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were shot dead in a string of attacks at day spas in and around Atlanta. A male suspect was arrested.

Death toll climbs to 21: Texas Senator Roland Gutierrez

An update on the death toll from the shooting.

Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez has told CNN that 18 children had been killed, and three adults.

He cited the Texas Rangers state police for the figures.

‘Part of the culture’: Why the US is so attached to guns

Kenneth Williams, a professor at South Texas College of Law, has said it is hard to change gun laws in the US because gun ownership is “part of the culture”.

Williams noted that there are more guns in the country than there are people.

US President Joe Biden to address nation

US President Joe Biden is back in the United States after his visit to South Korea and Japan.

He is due to address the country at 8:15pm (00:15 GMT).

Biden has already ordered flags to be flown at half-mast until sunset every day until May 28 in response to the tragedy.

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North Korea fires three missiles as Biden ends Asia visit | Weapons News



South Korea says the launches began early on Wednesday morning.

North Korea has fired three ballistic missiles off its east coast, South Korea’s military said, hours after United States President Joe Biden wrapped up his visit to the region.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the first missile was launched at 6am local time (21:00 GMT) on Wednesday, with a second launch 37 minutes later and the third five minutes after that.

The military said it was “maintaining a full readiness posture” and closely cooperating with the US.

South Korea’s new-elected President Yoon Suk-Yeol immediately convened a meeting of the National Security Council.

North Korea has carried out a record number of missile launches this year, including a test of its biggest intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.

The US had warned that Pyongyang was poised for more weapons tests as Biden headed to South Korea and Japan, his first visit to the region as president.

Biden left Japan on Tuesday night but had been briefed on the latest launches, the Reuters news agency said.

The US military command in the region said it was aware of “multiple” ballistic missile launches from North Korea and was assessing the situation.

“The missile launches highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program,” it said in a statement, referring to North Korea by its official name.

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