“How many more months will we have to suffer?” : Indonesians struggle with expensive cooking oil | Indonesia

As millions of Indonesians traveled to their hometowns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a common struggle was discussed at most family gatherings: the price of cooking oil.

“I always organize Eid al-Fitr celebrations for my big family. I cook everything for about 20 of us. But this year is the first time I had to ask them to contribute because that everything is so expensive, especially oil, and I really can’t handle it myself,” said Ellifa Kartini.

Palm oil is the most widely used cooking oil in Indonesia. Like many people, Kartini uses it for his family and for his business. She has run a small catering business from her home in Bekasi, West Java, for 25 years. It also produces and sells traditional biscuits. But the rising price of cooking oil has been extremely difficult for his business.

“Eid al-Fitr is the time of the year when I get the most orders and the biggest turnover. I could produce more than 25 kg of fried cookies for Eid al-Fitr alone. But this year I decided not to take any orders because the price is just too expensive. And if I raise the price of my cookie, I know my customers won’t want to buy it,” he said. she stated.

Ellifa said she needs about six liters of cooking oil every week for her business. On normal days it costs around Rp 15,000 (USD 1.04) per litre, but over the past few months the price has steadily increased, up to Rp 30,000 per litre.

“Before it increased so much, it first disappeared from shops and markets. I have to queue for hours just to get a liter. Sometimes I even have to go to another neighborhood to find it But when it hit Rp 30,000 per litre, I just gave up. The price just doesn’t make sense anymore,” she said.

Oil export ban

Mohammad Faisal, Indonesian executive director of the Center of Reform on Economics (CORE), said there were two main reasons for the price spike: the impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil. Faisal said last year the country had seen a spike in Covid cases and that had affected palm oil supply. Producers have been unable to meet demand levels as Covid has impacted workforces and disrupted production.

Meanwhile, supplies of another popular cooking oil – sunflower – were stretched after Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s leading exporters of sunflower oil.

In an attempt to boost supplies to Indonesia, President Joko Widodo has since said April 28 the government would ban the export of cooking oil and its raw materials. He said the policy was designed to ensure “a plentiful and affordable domestic supply of cooking oil”.

Palm oil producers in Indonesia. Most of the country’s cooking oil is made from palm oil. some products. Photography: Dedi Sinuhaji/EPA

Kartini hasn’t noticed any change since the export ban and although she has seen many swings in palm oil prices in the past, this is the worst so far.

“The price has skyrocketed too high. But usually changes like this only last about a month, but that’s the longest. How many more months will we have to suffer? she asked.

According to Statistics Indonesia, the price of palm oil has been rising since October 2021 – and prices have not fallen since the imposition of the export ban.

“Part of our life”

In regions outside the island of Java, palm oil has become even rarer. Yulian Juita, 32, who lives in Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara, said the cooking oil had been missing for months. When it appeared, the price had doubled.

“But I’ll buy it anyway, because we need it. I’m lucky because I only cook for my toddler and my husband. But I do my best to be more frugal when using it,” she said.

Juita said she used to consume around three liters a month, but now tries to use only half that amount.

In March, former President Megawati Soekarnoputri caused an uproar when she criticized mothers for making so much fried food and said they should boil or steam instead.

“Cooking oil is a very important part of our lives, and you can’t underestimate this problem by forcing families to boil everything instead of frying it. I’ve tried, but it’s not not so simple. I have a three-year-old and his favorite food is fried fish. It’s hard to give him only boiled or steamed food,” Juita said.

Some experts have criticized the government’s decision to ban cooking oil exports, saying it will not help lower prices.

“In theory, banning the export of cooking palm oil and imported raw materials will make domestic supply plentiful,” said Rusli Abdullah, a researcher at the Institute for Economic and Social Development. finance (Indef).

“However, this does not guarantee that contractors will release their oil or raw materials when prices are not attractive,” he said.

CORE’s Faisal called the move “rushed” and said the export ban could have wide-ranging repercussions.

“The ban…has the potential to cause huge losses to industry players, many of whom may not be related to cooking oil. [ban],” he said.

Kartini says she hopes cooking oil prices will come down soon, as her business is her family’s main source of income.

“I hope this will end soon, I’m really afraid it could affect my ability to pay for my children’s education if this continues. It really kills us,” she said.

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