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Indonesia recruits farmers, teachers to battle anti-palm oil sentiment

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November 10, 2021

By Fathin Ungku and Bernadette Christina

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Indonesia’s giant palm oil industry, long a target of global green groups, is shoring up its defences closer to home as it tries to counter growing anti-palm oil sentiment among a more environmentally conscious generation of young Indonesians.

Indonesia, the world’s top palm oil producer, is training farmers and teachers and running social media campaigns to highlight the “positive aspects” of the $50 billion industry.

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“We must tell the world about the benefits of palm oil,” Achmad Maulizal, the corporate division head of BPDP, a government body in charge of collecting export taxes, told a media training workshop for farmers in Kalimantan via Zoom.

Palm oil, which is found in many consumer products from potato crisps to soap, has been linked by environmentalists to land clearance, habitat destruction and forest fires.

Indonesia has the world’s third biggest rainforest area, vast wildernesses seen as crucial to limiting the effects of climate change, and home to vulnerable species including orangutans, tigers and rhinoceros.

At least 1.6 million hectares of forest and other land were burned in 2019 and losses were estimated at $5.2 billion as a choking haze blanketed Indonesia and neighbouring countries.

Greenpeace analysis shows about a third of forest fires in Indonesia are in palm and pulp areas.

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But the government is keen to highlight the positive aspects of the industry which employs more than 15 million Indonesians and generates around 13% of the country’s exports.

The BPDP has teamed up with the Smallholder Farmers Association to provide palm farmers with a media training programme to enable them to contribute to news articles and social media content that touches on innovation in the palm oil industry, as well as its importance to the national economy and to Indonesians’ livelihoods.

The BPDP has also teamed up with Indonesia’s Teachers Association to conduct workshops for teachers across the archipelago to “Unravel Myths and Facts” about palm oil.

“In my understanding, palm oil is the largest foreign exchange earner, but… there’s also information that may be a bit negative,” said Sukiter, a teacher based in Yogyakarta city who attended the programme said.

“But (based on) the explanation earlier (at the workshop), there are so many benefits of palm oil,” she said on a promotional video for the programme.

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YOUNG AND GREEN

Environmental activists have for decades tried to spread anti-palm oil messages among young Indonesians, who have become more receptive to global calls via the internet and social media to combat climate change.

That has prompted Indonesia’s palm industry to try to counter what it sees as one-sided information spreading at home, Toggar Sitanggang, the vice chairman of Indonesia’s Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) told Reuters.

“This makes us more urgent to balance out the information out there,” Sitanggang said.

“We need to spread positive information among these youngsters and get them to be more questioning about the information that they get.”

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More than 50% of Indonesians are aged nine to 40 – populations known as Gen Z and Millennials.

In a survey of Gen Z and Millennials conducted by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, 95% of respondents are at least “a bit concerned” about climate issues – far more than older groups.

The climate crisis, the study showed, is seen as the second most pressing issue in the country, after corruption.

Helga Angelina, the 30-year-old founder of vegan restaurant chain Burgreens and manufacturer of palm oil-free vegan mock meats Green Rebel Foods, said the trend towards making more eco-conscious choices has seen her revenue jump 20 times since she started out in 2013.

Burgreens now has 15 outlets across the city and its mock meat manufacturing business now supplies to international food giants such as coffee chain Starbucks and furniture giant IKEA.

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“In the past two years, we’ve attracted this Gen Z group, which is a new generation of customers… they are more driven by the environment,” Helga told Reuters. Previously, her clientele was mostly health conscious expatriates or upper-middle class Indonesians.

Some business owners Reuters spoke to who avoid palm oil say while they are wary about bad practices linked to the industry, they are open to sustainable palm oil when it becomes more readily available and cost competitive.

The need to stem anti-palm oil sentiment in Indonesia is made more urgent by its increasing dependence on the domestic market to sop up palm supplies.

Almost a third of Indonesia’s palm oil supply is locally consumed, compared to 23.4% in 2015, official data showed.

That is expected to jump to 40% by 2025, GAPKI’s Sitanggang said, and up to 70% in 2030 if Indonesia’s plans to mandate 40% palm oil content in its biodiesel comes into fruition.

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Although calls to totally boycott palm are relatively muted in Indonesia compared to other countries, younger Indonesians are demanding for more sustainable practices.

“We know business-as-usual can no longer continue,” Melati Wijsen, a 19-year-old climate activist and founder of Bali-based non-profit Youthtopia, told Reuters.

“These issues aren’t some faraway or distant story that we hear about it’s something that we live with. It’s our reality.”

(Reporting by Fathin Ungku and Bernadette Christina; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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Iran plays hardball as nuclear talks with world powers resume

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November 29, 2021

By Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish

VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran and world powers resumed talks on Monday after a five-month hiatus to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers warning that will not work, hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim.

Diplomats say time is running out to resurrect the pact, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

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Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round formally began with a meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, without the United States, shortly after 1400 GMT.

The meeting in Vienna ended an extended break triggered by the election of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president. The talks are effectively indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington since Iran refuses to meet face to face with U.S. envoys. Other officials shuttle between them.

Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that U.S. and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.

“Our demands are clear. Other parties and especially Americans should decide whether they want this deal to be revived or not. They abandoned the pact, so they should return to it and lift all sanctions,” an Iranian official close to the talks told Reuters.

Iran has adopted an uncompromising position by demanding removal of all U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear programme, in a verifiable process.

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“The United States still fails to properly understand the fact that there is no way to return to the deal without a verifiable and effective lifting of all sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in a statement shortly after the talks resumed.

“The return of the U.S. to the nuclear deal would be meaningless without guarantees to prevent the recurrence of the bitter experience of the past,” he said. “This opportunity is not a window that can remain open forever.”

TENSIONS

In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the U.N. atomic watchdog, which monitors its nuclear programme, have festered.

As Iran has advanced its uranium enrichment, the International Atomic Energy Agency says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.

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“If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won’t work. We and our partners won’t go for it,” U.S. envoy Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday.

Since Trump took the United States out of the deal, Iran has breached many of its restrictions meant to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/explainer-what-remains-of-the-iran-nucle-idUSKBN2ID0E4. Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only for civil uses.

Malley warned that Washington would be ready to ramp up pressure on Tehran if the talks collapse.

Diplomats have said Washington has suggested negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved. Several Iranian officials told Reuters Iran had no intention of accepting an interim deal.

Iran’s arch-enemy Israel, which opposed the original deal as too limited in scope and duration, has said military options will be on the table if diplomacy fails.

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“They (Iranians) will play for time, earn billions from the removal of sanctions, continue to deceive the world, and covertly advance their nuclear programme,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters in London https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-lapid-urges-world-keep-up-pressure-iran-2021-11-29.

“The intelligence is clear. It leaves no doubt.”

(Writing by John Irish and Parisa Hafezi Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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U.N. chief concerned about southern Africa isolation over Omicron

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November 29, 2021

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries after COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed by several countries over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

“I appeal to all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the objective of avoiding the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement,” Guterres said in a statement.

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The Omicron variant of coronavirus carries a very high global risk of surges https://www.reuters.com/world/spread-omicron-variant-forces-nations-rethink-plans-global-travel-2021-11-29, the World Health Organization warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases.

Omicron was first identified in southern Africa and many countries, including the United States and Britain, have announced travel curbs and other restrictions on the region. Africa has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide due to a lack of access to doses.

Guterres has long warned about the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunization rates are “a breeding ground for variants.”

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Belarus announces military drills with Russia near Ukraine border

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November 29, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with close ally Russia on its southern border with Ukraine and accused the NATO military alliance of building up offensive capabilities near its borders.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials say Russia has built up forces near Ukraine, sparking fears of a looming attack. Moscow denies any such plan. Belarus is itself locked in a row with the European Union over migrants camped at its western border.

Casting it as a response to new military deployments in countries to the west and south of Belarus, Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said Minsk would hold an exercise with Russia in the “medium term”. He gave no specific date.

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“We see troop formations around our state borders… We can only be concerned by the militarisation of our neighouring countries, which is why are forced to plan measures in response,” he said in comments on his ministry’s website.

NATO member Lithuania, which lies to the west of Belarus, said on Sunday the Atlantic alliance needed to adjust its stance towards Belarus, whose military, it said, was becoming more integrated with Russia’s armed forces.

On Monday, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said Minsk would not sit idly on the sidelines if the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted or a war broke out with the West at Russia’s borders.

“…it is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said in a clear nod to Russia, whose financial and political backing helped him weather huge protests against his rule that broke out last autumn.

“They understand this, that’s why they’ve begun strengthening their northern Belarus-Ukraine border,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

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The comments appeared to contrast with the more neutral stance taken by Lukashenko after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for separatist forces in Ukraine’s east.

Minsk, like most of the world, still recognises Crimea as Ukrainian territory.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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