JAKARTA: Hundreds of Indonesian smallholder farmers on Tuesday staged a protest in the capital Jakarta and in other parts of the world’s fourth most populous country, demanding the government end a palm oil export ban that has slashed their income.
Indonesia, the world’s top palm oil exporter, has since April 28 halted shipments of crude palm oil and some of its derivative products in a bid to control soaring prices of domestic cooking oil, rattling global vegetable oil markets.
Marching alongside a truck filled with palm oil fruit, farmers held a rally outside the offices of the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs, which is leading the government policy.
“Malaysian farmers are wearing full smiles, Indonesian farmers suffer,” one of the signs held up by protesters read. Malaysia is the second-largest producer of palm oil and has said it aims to supply markets left open by Indonesia’s export ban.
In a statement, the smallholder farmer’s group APKASINDO said since the announcement of the export ban the price of palm fruit had dropped 70% below the floor price set by regional authorities.
Meanwhile, APKASINDO estimated that at least 25% of palm oil mills has stopped buying palm fruit from independent farmers.
The protesters also planned to march to the presidential palace, the group said. Similar protests were also being held in 22 other provinces, it said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo imposed the export ban on palm oil and its derivative products used in the making of cooking oil after a series of policies failed to control the price of the basic household food item.
A survey this week showed the approval ratings for Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, hit the lowest level since December 2015 due to rising prices.
Figures released by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia showed that satisfaction with Jokowi fell to 58.1% in May to the lowest since December 2015 when the president’s approval rating had slumped to 53%.
Chief Economics Minister Airlangga Hartarto has said the ban would stay in place until bulk cooking oil prices drop to 14,000 rupiah ($0.9563) per litre across Indonesia.
Trade Ministry data showed as of Friday, bulk cooking oil was priced on average at 17,300 rupiah per litre as of Friday.