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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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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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