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)
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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.


Turkey appoints a new finance minister amid plunge in currency

Turkey appoints a new finance minister amid plunge in currency
Updated 03 December 2021

Turkey appoints a new finance minister amid plunge in currency

Turkey appoints a new finance minister amid plunge in currency
  • Plummeting to record lows against foreign exchanges, Turkey’s beleaguered lira has lost about 45% of its value so far this year, toppling household savings

ANKARA: In an overnight decision on Dec. 2, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed Nureddin Nebati as the country’s new minister of treasury and finance in place of Lutfi Elvan, adopting orthodox policy rather than monetary easing.

Elvan, having disagreed with Erdogan over the decrease of interest rates, reportedly stepped down from the post voluntarily. He was a figure acclaimed by market players despite fluctuations in the country’s economic management.

How the new minister, known as a loyalist, will be received by investors remains to be seen.

Plummeting to record lows against foreign exchanges, Turkey’s beleaguered lira has lost about 45 percent of its value so far this year, toppling household savings.

On Nov. 30, the lira plunged as low as 14 to the US dollar, and hit 15 to the euro, rendering it the worst performing currency of all emerging markets. The Central Bank of Turkey quickly intervened by selling substantial amounts of foreign exchange reserves to prop up the lira, Bloomberg reported.

Nebati, who served three years as a deputy finance minister before taking on this role, became the country’s third finance minister in just over a year.

He is known as a bureaucrat and a former businessman close to Erdogan, and he ardently supports keeping rates low in the face of soaring inflation, as they both believe that high interest rates result in high inflation.

However, according to Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London, the appointment is expected to pave the way toward considerable spending in the months ahead to boost the government’s ratings ahead of the 2023 elections.

“Fiscal discipline, which has traditionally differentiated Turkey from most emerging markets, is soon likely to become history,” he told Arab News.

Experts anticipate that the economy could be accelerated through cheap credits.

Piccoli believes that the government will announce two support programs to prop up exports and the job market, along with additional initiatives to be disclosed in the months ahead in order to consolidate the government’s position.

“It is likely that the government can use its funds to provide loans to businesses as well,” he added.

The new minister, coming from a political science background in academia, took part in the youth organizations affiliated with Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

“My God, make it easy, do not make it difficult. My God, make its outcome useful. Give us truth in our work, make us successful,” Nebati tweeted upon his appointment.

Before becoming a AKP lawmaker between 2011-2018, he was also an active figure on the board of the pro-government Islamist business association, MUSIAD. He is also known as a figure very close to Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak.

“In the recent past, former minister Lutfi Elvan had hinted that improvements in the current account balance should be handled with structural changes in the production structure rather than with rate cuts,” said Selva Demiralp, a professor of economics at Koc University in Istanbul, and a former economist at the Federal Reserve.

“Meanwhile, the government insists on the argument that rate cuts will be used as a way to stimulate exports and reduce imports. With the appointment of the new minister, it looks like there will be better coordination between monetary and fiscal policy in keeping interest rates low,” she told Arab News.

In a recent interview wtih state-run broadcaster TRT, Erdogan said that more interest rate changes should be expected in the coming period and Turkey would turn a surplus in 2022, while he warned that there is no “turning back” from the new policy path.

“In this way, there will be an improvement in exchange rates ahead of the elections,” he said.

According to the latest official data on Tuesday, the Turkish economy grew by 7.4 percent year-on-year in the third quarter, thanks to exports, manufacturing and retail demand.

In another speech to Parliament last month, Erdogan hinted at a forthcoming change of finance minister, saying “I’m sorry to our friends who defend (high) interests but I cannot and will not walk the same path as them.”

Elvan was the only one who did not join the crowd in applauding these remarks.

According to economist Demiralp, more rate cuts will push deposit rates further into negative territory, which may bring another wave of dollarization and increase the pressures on the lira.

“Thus, it would limit the banks’ ability to transmit further rate cuts into their borrowing and lending rates. When the monetary transmission mechanism comes to a halt, the government may reconsider its easing cycle,” she said.

On Thursday, the central bank governor met with domestic and international investors and economists via videoconference.

Since September, the central bank has cut rates by 400 basis points to 15 percent against inflation that reached about 20 percent.

The recent steps taken by Ankara to mend ties with its previous regional competitors are also seen as part of a larger attempt to reap economic gains and attract investments from such overtures.


Saudi Arabia showcases NEOM in its first roadshow in London 

Saudi Arabia showcases NEOM in its first roadshow in London 
Updated 02 December 2021

Saudi Arabia showcases NEOM in its first roadshow in London 

Saudi Arabia showcases NEOM in its first roadshow in London 

Saudi Arabia’s smart city NEOM has hosted its first UK roadshow event in London to promote investment opportunities.

It was attended by over 250 leaders from the country’s business, financial, environmental and political circles,

Launched by Saudi’s ambassador to the UK, the Discover NEOM event included presentations, panels and an exhibition of NEOM in film and images, paving the way to direct meetings with the project’s CEO and industry leaders.

Khalid bin Bandar Al-Saud has praised the Kingdom’s progress over the last five years in diversifying its economy, as non-oil revenues increased by 222 percent. 

“NEOM is a global hub for innovation and an accelerator for growth,” he said, reiterating the city’s role as the cornerstone of Vision 2030. 

Al-Saud has also welcomed numerous UK companies and international talents who already contribute to making the ambitious dream a reality. 

Baroness Helena Morrissey joins NEOM CEO Nadhmi Al-Naser to discuss the project

NEOM’s CEO Nadhmi Al-Naser reiterated that “NEOM is very much open for business,” referring to the recent establishment of OXAGON.

The world’s largest floating industrial complex, located on the Red Sea close to the Suez Canal OXAGON is to establish a fully integrated port and supply chain ecosystem for NEOM, as announced last November.

NEOM, as announced in 2017, is the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 flagship project, led by Prince Mohammad bin Salman to act like an engine for the country’s economy. 

The $500 billion project is described as the world’s first “cognitive and smart city." 

The vast sustainable development covers 10,000 square miles of Tabuk province in north-west Saudi Arabia.

It includes a 170-kilometre long linear city known as The Line, planned to have one million citizens, preserving 95 percent of the nature within NEOM. 

The city of NEOM has also signed a deal with the German-based Volocopter to develop the world's first bespoke public transport development, enabling an open electric vertical take-off and landing ecosystem for vertical mobility services, known as eVTOL.

The deal demonstrates NEOM as an ideal region to rapidly implement urban air mobility and create a fully integrated vertical mobility ecosystem, the CEO of NEOM said. 

Lord Ed Vaizey, who participated in one of the panels, welcomed NEOM’s financial and technological ambitions across its 14 sectors, and said: “Digital technology is close to my heart, and it was energizing to hear of NEOM’s plans for technology as it builds its cognitive cities.

"The plans for financial services are also dramatic and new, which will have far-reaching affects around the world, but most importantly help to create a more inclusive society in Saudi Arabia, one of the key Vision 2030 goals.”


Oil down $2 a barrel after OPEC+ sticks to planned output rise

Oil down $2 a barrel after OPEC+ sticks to planned output rise
Updated 03 December 2021

Oil down $2 a barrel after OPEC+ sticks to planned output rise

Oil down $2 a barrel after OPEC+ sticks to planned output rise

US and Brent Crude oil dropped $2 a barrel after sources claimed OPEC+ has decided to stick to its planned January output rise of 400,000 per day, Reuters is reporting.

At a meeting held via videoconference on the Thursday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, resisted US requests for speedier increases in oil output to support the global economy.

However, the meeting remains “in session”, according to a press release issued on Thursday afternoon, meaning the group could revist the decision before the next scheduled meeting on Jan. 4.

Producers have said they did not want to hamper a fragile energy industry recovery with oversupply.

Under its existing pact, OPEC+ agreed to raise output by 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) each month, winding down record cuts agreed in 2020 when demand crashed because of the pandemic.

Thursday's meeting comes a week after the United States and other major consumers announced they would release emergency crude reserves to temper energy prices.

US President Joe Biden’s administration could adjust the timing of any release if prices dropped substantially, US Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk told Reuters on Wednesday.

OPEC+ forecast a 3 million bpd surplus in the first quarter of 2022 after the release of reserves, up from a 2.3 million bpd surplus previously forecast.

 

 

 

 

 


Saudi Arabia studies using desalinated sea water for agriculture 

Saudi Arabia studies using desalinated sea water for agriculture 
Updated 02 December 2021

Saudi Arabia studies using desalinated sea water for agriculture 

Saudi Arabia studies using desalinated sea water for agriculture 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has initiated a feasibility study to use desalinated sea water in agriculture.

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture is studying the possibility of using renewable energy sources, and the possibility of mixing desalinated water with renewable treated water, according to the Saudi Press Agency .

Saudi Arabia ranks as the top producer of desalinated water in the world, and is aiming to produce 9 million cubic meters of drinking water by 2025, SPA reported.


Diriyah attracts international global hotel portfolio 

Diriyah attracts international global hotel portfolio 
Updated 02 December 2021

Diriyah attracts international global hotel portfolio 

Diriyah attracts international global hotel portfolio 

RIYADH: Diriyah Gate Development Authority has announced the names of 14 international brands of hotels and resorts set to open in the development, including Address Hotels & Resorts, Baccarat Hotels & Resorts, and Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.

The hotel openings will begin with The Luxury Collection, operated by Marriott International, due to open in 2022.

“This prestigious hotel collection will set the stage for a new level of global hospitality,” said CEO of DGDA, Jerry Inzerillo.

The authority aims to place Diriyah as the Kingdom’s historic and cultural heart, showcasing Saudi Arabia’s more than 300 years of history through a set of heritage, hospitality, education, retail and dining experiences.