Pandemic puts pressure on Japan to open up rice stockpile to charities

Pandemic puts pressure on Japan to open up rice stockpile to charities
The pandemic has highlighted often-overlooked poverty in Japan. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 21 February 2021

Pandemic puts pressure on Japan to open up rice stockpile to charities

Pandemic puts pressure on Japan to open up rice stockpile to charities
  • Poverty rate in Japan stands at 15.7 percent
  • A rolling stock of about 1 million tons is maintained in warehouses around the country, with older rice sold as feed

TOKYO: When Ayumi lost her part-time job at a restaurant last summer, she ended up relying on rice and pre-packaged fare delivered once a month by a food bank to her college campus in Tokyo.
“I cut my meals to once a day, in mid-afternoon,” the 22-year-old said. “Many friends were in the same boat – they worked at eateries that were hit because of the coronavirus.”
As job losses surge due to the pandemic, demand for food handouts has skyrocketed in Japan, prompting the government to release stockpiled rice to charities for the first time last May. Another expanded program started this month.
The pandemic has highlighted often-overlooked poverty in Japan, which boasts the world’s third largest economy but where the poverty rate stands at 15.7 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
On top of this, the average number of available jobs per applicant saw its biggest decline in 45 years in 2020, while the average jobless rate rose for the first time in 11 years.
But the move by the government to release stockpiled rice to charities comes with the requirement that it be used for children, which campaigners fear limits the impact and they are calling for the rules to be eased.
“We’re bound by the law to use the stockpile only in the event of a supply shortage in the market, or for the purpose of ‘food education’. We can’t use it for welfare,” said an official for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).
“This is the extent of what we can do.”
Japan adopted a policy of keeping an emergency stockpile of rice shortly after a bad harvest in 1993 caused a critical shortage of the national staple.
‘Falling through the cracks’
A rolling stock of about 1 million tons is maintained in warehouses around the country, with older rice sold as feed. Japan consumes about 8.5 million tons of rice annually, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), making it the world’s ninth largest consumer.
Food banks have lobbied the government for years to release some of the rice to them, but legal restrictions regarding the stockpile made that impossible.
The government does provide some stockpiled rice to public schools for free, but this is deemed ‘food education’ — teaching children about the importance of rice to Japanese culture.
But when the pandemic forced most schools in Japan to close last spring, operators of cafeterias providing free food for children, known as “kodomo shokudo,” managed to convince the government to supply free rice from the stockpile, arguing that many children were going hungry without their school lunches.
“As long as children were the end-user, we figured it could be considered ‘food education’,” the MAFF official said.
It was deemed a significant step symbolically but the impact was limited because the government capped the release at 60 kg per charity per year, and said the rice had to be cooked, partly to prevent abuse through re-sale.
The result was that less than 10 tons were taken up.
This month an expanded initiative designed for a relatively new type of charity that delivers food to poor families removed the requirement for the rice to be cooked but kept a limit of 300 kg per year per organization.
Charles McJilton, founder and CEO of Second Harvest Japan, the country’s biggest food bank, said 300 kgs of rice would “last us 30 minutes” — with estimates that this was about a 60th of what large food banks distribute each year.
“300 kg is an insult to a nation that has so much rice available and 20 million people living below the poverty line,” McJilton told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“People are falling through the cracks. If it’s the law, change the law.”
In the United States and some European nations, governments actively support food banks through various programs.
But in Japan, the MAFF is responsible for “the promotion of agriculture, forestry and fishery” with neither the charge nor budget to address hunger, the ministry official said.
COVID-19 has predictably made things worse, with demand for food handouts more than doubling from pre-pandemic levels in Japan where receiving welfare carries a strong social stigma that stops many people from accessing these benefits.
About 2 million of the 126 million population live on welfare — one tenth of those living below the poverty line.
Japan’s capital, Tokyo, with a population of 14 million has about 40 food pantries where individuals can pick up food — compared with Hong Kong’s 200 food pantries for half the number of people, according to Second Harvest Japan.
“The government’s latest initiative is one step forward,” said Hiroaki Yoneyama, general secretary of national council Food Bank All Japan.
“But big food banks distribute 20 tons (18,144 kgs) of rice a year, so the quantity is rather small.”
As supplies from corporate donors dwindle in a suffering economy, food banks have been left struggling to provide a safety net for the poor, elderly, day laborers, and desperate college students like Ayumi.
“For me, the most heart-rending thing is knowing that we have resources available out there,” said McJilton.


King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants
Updated 04 March 2021

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants
  • President and CEO of SPARK Saif Al-Qahtani: SPARK is proud to welcome TAQA and AMCO as they take the first step toward launching their operations
  • By 2035, the park is expected to contribute more than SR22 billion to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product

RIYADH: King Salman Energy Park (SPARK), the Dammam-based project backed by Saudi Aramco, added two new anchor tenants on Thursday, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA) and AMCO.

President and CEO of SPARK Saif Al-Qahtani said: “SPARK is proud to welcome TAQA and AMCO as they take the first step toward launching their operations. SPARK sits at the heart of the energy market, offering a world-class ecosystem that facilitates the growth of our tenants’ businesses and brings sustained value to our wider communities. SPARK is set to be a fully integrated city, bringing together major national and international companies and fuelling economic growth and job creation.”

TAQA will expand its local operations with the TAQA Industrial Park at SPARK, including a new facility for oilfield services, a specialist unit for engineering and manufacturing, and a wireline and perforation center of excellence.

The facilities will be constructed in two phases starting in the second quarter of 2021, with the design and developmental planning stages having already commenced.

TAQA CEO Khalid Nouh said: “With our plans for future acquisitions focused on cutting-edge technology and innovative solutions, we further cement our alignment with Vision 2030 and the government’s drive to diversify and localize services and manufacturing in the Kingdom.”

AMCO is investing over SR260 million ($69.33 million) in a new center at SPARK. Its plans include the development of facilities to enable the manufacturing and production of steel pipes, valves, pumps, turbines, and machine and rotary equipment.

AMCO’s facilities will be developed in three phases, allowing for the gradual build-up of manufacturing capabilities and onboarding of local talent.

By 2035, the park is expected to contribute more than SR22 billion to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product, provide up to 100,000 direct and indirect jobs and localize more than 350 new industrial and service facilities.


STC partners with Irish software firm to develop in-car applications

Saudi Telecom Co. (STC), the Kingdom’s largest mobile network operator, has entered into a partnership with Irish vehicle software firm Cubic Telecom to develop in-car software solutions for Saudi drivers. (Supplied)
Saudi Telecom Co. (STC), the Kingdom’s largest mobile network operator, has entered into a partnership with Irish vehicle software firm Cubic Telecom to develop in-car software solutions for Saudi drivers. (Supplied)
Updated 2 min 2 sec ago

STC partners with Irish software firm to develop in-car applications

Saudi Telecom Co. (STC), the Kingdom’s largest mobile network operator, has entered into a partnership with Irish vehicle software firm Cubic Telecom to develop in-car software solutions for Saudi drivers. (Supplied)
  • As a result of the link up, the software will then also allow STC to easily add a range of in-car services to Saudi vehicles

RIYADH: Saudi Telecom Co. (STC), the Kingdom’s largest mobile network operator, has entered into a partnership with Irish vehicle software firm Cubic Telecom to develop in-car software solutions for Saudi drivers.

As a result of the link up, the software will then also allow STC to easily add a range of in-car services to Saudi vehicles, including an emergency call system which automatically alerts healthcare services in the event of an accident.

Gerry McQuaid, chief commercial officer at Cubic, told Arab News: “Basically we partnered with STC as a premier car integrity partner in Saudi Arabia. We are enabling the customer to benefit from a range of safety, entertainment, and navigation features when they purchase the car.”

Similar to every market, Saudi Arabia had a strict range of regulations for how connectivity was managed, he said, adding that the software partnership would make it easier for features to be added by carmakers and third-party developers.

“I can’t give a precise date, but in a not-too-distant future you actually don’t need a driving license, the car will actually drive autonomously for the citizens. That is the big difference,” McQuaid said.

“Already software solutions can support this capability, but it does need important regulations to be introduced to start with semi-driving.

“You can request the car on your smart phone, and it will drive to you to get in and the car will drive to your destination. You can listen to music, do some work, and have a conversation while the car drives. This is not science fiction,” he added.

Soon cars will have a whole range of applications, such as an iPhone or other smart phone, with touchscreen interaction and voice regulations, and people will interact with the car from outside using smart phone apps, he said.

On safety regulations, McQuaid pointed out that solutions included an “emergency call” system which would automatically alert emergency services in the event of an accident, give details about the incident, and suggest if it required attention.

Barry Napier, CEO of Cubic Telecom, said: “We are delighted to be working with STC to help car manufacturers activate new opportunities in a very significant market.”

Dr. Sultan bin Saeed, STC’s vice president of business development, said: “Partnering with Cubic enables STC as a digital enabler to simplify the delivery and management of advanced in-car services and gives us a foundation for innovating and meeting the changing needs of customers as new services evolve.”

Cubic Telecom provides connected software solutions in more than 5 million vehicles and devices to at least 100 countries and has already partnered with some of the Gulf region’s largest mobile operators.


Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back

Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back
Updated 04 March 2021

Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back

Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back
  • Hyundai to take LPG cargoes
  • CO2 sent back to use in oil fields

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia plans to ship gas to South Korea where it will be used to make hydrogen, and the carbon dioxide produced in the process will be transported straight back to the Kingdom, Asharq reported, citing Bloomberg.

Hyundai Oil Bank Co. will take liquefied petroleum gas cargoes from Saudi Aramco and convert them into hydrogen, to use for chemical and power solutions, the Korean energy company’s parent Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings Company said.

Aramco and Hyundai OilBank Co. agreed in the deal signed on Wednesday, that the carbon dioxide emitted in the hydrogen-making process will be transported back to Aramco, to use it in its oil production facilities, according to a Hyundai Heavy spokesman.

“It seems the project will bank on the idea that shipping LPG to Korea and carbon dioxide back to Saudi Arabia will be cheaper than shipping hydrogen to Korea,” said Martin Tengler, BloombergNEF’s lead hydrogen analyst.

Saudi Aramco has huge quantities of natural gas, which it has identified as a key area of expansion for domestic supply and export in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

“We basically look at natural gas as an area for growth for the company,” Khalid Al-Dabbagh, Aramco’s chief financial officer, said in an investor call in the run-up to its successful IPO back in 2019.


GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering

GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering
Updated 04 March 2021

GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering

GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering

Lebanon’s president this week ordered the central bank governor to open an investigation into currency speculation, after the Lebanese pound plunged to record lows on the black market.
But the battered Lebanese pound is not alone among regional currencies that have been decimated by the impact of the pandemic and other factors.
The Syrian pound also fell to a record low on the black market this week, dragged down by its close commercial and banking ties with Lebanon.
“Businessmen and traders are fretting over fears of a free-fall in coming days and watching if unrest grows in Lebanon and its impact on dealings since Lebanon is our lifeline to the outside world,” said one Damascus-based trader told Reuters, who requested anonymity.


Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market

Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market
Updated 04 March 2021

Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market

Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market
  • OPEC and allies meet today
  • Oil price rises ahead of meeting

LONDON Oil prices rose more than $1 per barrel on Thursday after Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman urged caution and vigilance at the beginning of a meeting of OPEC ministers and their allies about the future of supply cut
Brent crude futures were up $1.11, or 1.7 percent, at $65.18 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose $1.07, or 1.8 percent to $62.35.
Ministers from OPEC members and their allies started a meeting to discuss the future of an oil output cut at 1300 GMT.
Analysts and traders say a four-month price rally from below $40 a barrel is now out of step with demand and that physical sales are not expected to match supply until later in 2021.
In the United States, despite a record surge of more than 21 million barrels in crude oil stockpiles last week, gasoline stocks fell by the most in 30 years as refining plunged to a record low because of the Texas freeze.