Common salt farming dwindling in Goa

The state once had several villages involved in salt extraction, today however just few continue the practice, reports Bhiva P Parab

Goa’s centuries old tradition of common salt farming is dwindling and iodised salt is the reason for it. With different versions of iodised salt being the preference of consumers, the demand for traditional salt is decreasing.

Salt produced through natural evaporation process was being used in every household before the industrially-produced salt made it to the state. During the Portuguese rule also traditional salt production played an important role in the economy of the state. However with buyers preferring branded salt there is a decrease in the number of traditional salt farmers.

In the market, traditional salt is sold by ‘lata’ or ‘dabo’ (tin). One dabo sells for about Rs 80. A tin contains roughly 12 kgs of salt which means the salt producers get roughly Rs six per kg, while most of the industrially produced fine salt roughly cost Rs 20 per kg, which is much higher cost. However the demand is higher for industrial processed fine iodized salt which has reduced the demand for traditional salt.

Awareness about the benefits of common salt is required so that the people prefer it over iodised salt. The traditional salt producers are getting very low profits as industrially-produced salt is in more demand and the cost of labour has also increased. Moreover there is no support forthcoming from the state government. Thanks to an overall discouraging environment, the number of salt pans (Mithagar or Mithache agor) have decreased in the state to great extent.

The traditional salt producers face difficulty of high labour cost as the labourers charges around Rs 500 to 700 per day. It works out to Rs 15,000 to 20,000 a month. According to salt farmers, a major part of the profit goes into labour cost and it is difficult to get local labourers. The labourers coming from outside the state demand accommodation facility.

The state once had several villages involved in salt extraction, however today just few continue the practice. It may be noted that low income, lack of skilled labour, competition from industrially-manufactured salt, and losses incurred on the yearly damage to embankments are the major reasons for the drop in the number of salt pans.

Some other difficulties faced by the salt producers apart from labourers include transportation problem as hardly any approach roads are there to the saltpans. Thus the salt produced has to be transported manually and the increasing transport cost also discourages the salt producers to travel long distances to sell their produce. Earlier residents used to go to salt pans to buy the salt however nowadays hardly anyone takes the trouble.

Another problem faced  by traditional salt producers is the absence of storage facilities. Thus the salt produced during a particular season if not sold in that season becomes difficult to store. So most salt producers fear excess production and operate at modest scale.

In villages most use local salt for storage of raw mangoes, making pickles, etc. But for daily use most use refined salt which is available easily in all grocery shops and in convenience packages. Refined salt is readily available and it does not requires storage space. The salt is in small, handy packets and available easily everywhere from small shops to the supermarkets. But that is not the case with the local common salt.

A local went on to say that that it is not possible to store traditional salt in small flats in the city as already there is less space and common salt need to be bought in large amounts. So people in the urban areas mostly use the fine salt. In recent years in the villages also people have started using fine salt due to its easy availability and no need of storage. Some villagers however continue to buy traditional salt for applying on fish and for other requirements.

“The local salt production work starts somewhere in December when the salt makers have to remove the water which is accumulated in the salt pans during the monsoon season and prepare the pans for production. The actual salt production begins somewhere at the end of February and goes on till May depending on the climatic condition especially the rains,” said a salt producer.

He added, “The salt which we used to produce a few years back when the industrialized fine iodized salt was hardly available, used to get sold within no time, however now the traditional salt producers of the state have to wait for the customers.”

He also went on to say that he is in this local salt producing business for more than 40 years, from his childhood and the work is hard. It involves working in the hot sun from 5.30 in the morning to almost the whole day.

A salt producer also said, “I went fully into the local salt production business as it is our traditional business which was started by my ancestors. Several generations of our family have done the same business. However now this business is becoming non-viable as there are several difficulties we have to face and there is no government support for us. The biggest hurdle is that demand has decreased. A couple of years back I used to carry out production in larger area as there was demand, however I have now decreased the production. If I was in job I would have earned good salary every month and there would have been security of job. But in this business there is hardly any profit.”

Residents who are aware of the importance of local salt feel that the government should initiate steps to solve the problems of the traditional salt producers and help them to increase their output.
A scheme should be formulated to encourage the salt producers to increase their traditional salt production and the younger generation encouraged to take up the production activity.

“It is young generation which need to be boosted and if we go to see the young generation shy from doing this traditional work as they are educated now and this is not a very lucrative job. The younger generation need to be encouraged to get involved in the traditional salt production and I feel that the government should come forward with some scheme which will encourage the younger generation to come in this salt production business and the government should look at the various problems faced by the local salt producers and solve the issues,” said a local, Nandakishore Nhanji.

He said that broken sluice gates needs to be repaired. Damaged sluice gates result in saltpans becoming unusable as water seeps in from the embankments. It affects the salt production and regular maintenance of the embankments need to be carried out which again adds to the cost of salt production. “Sometimes if there is more damage to the embankment then the cost is high and it eats into a part of the profit,” according to the information available from the salt producers.

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