With the summer season set to begin traditional production of common salt has begun in the state. Salt farming activity in the state is a traditional activity and carried out for several centuries, however the buyers of common salt are decreasing which is perhaps the reason for the decline in the traditional salt business.
March is the month when production of salt begins. However the actual work starts somewhere in December when salt makers have to remove the water which is accumulated in the salt pans during the monsoon season and prepare the saltpans for salt production. The production begins somewhere in March and goes on till May depending on the climatic conditions.
Salt produced by Goans in the the traditional way is non-polluting as the production is through natural evaporation process. In the early days, viz. during the Portuguese rule and before the entry of industrially produced salt practically every large household made their own salt. In the olden times common salt also played an important role in the economy of the state. However today traditional salt producers get low income and face tough competition from industrially produced salt.
“These days it is seen that there is more demand for the industrial processed fine iodized salt. It has reduced the demand of the traditional common salt,” said a salt farmer.
A local said, “Mostly traditional salt is used for storage of raw mangoes, making pickle, etc., otherwise mostly we use refined salt as refined salt is easily available in the market in convenient packets. It does not require more storage space and is easily available from small shops to the supermarkets, while that is not the case with the local common salt.”
Another woman consumer added that, since it is not possible to store traditional salt in small flats in the city people in the urban areas use the fine table salt. “We in the villages have also started using the fine salt due to its easy availability although we bring some quantity of traditional salt for applying on fish and other requirements,” said the consumer.
According to the information available from a salt producer, the salt which was produced in the early years when the industrialized fine iodized salt was hardly available, used to get sold within no time. However now he has to wait for the customers.” He went on to say that, he is in the local salt producing business for more than 40 years in fact from my childhood. “The salt production work is hard. It starts somewhere in the month of December and goes on till the end of May or till the rains begin. We have to work in the scorching sun and my work begins from 5.30 in the morning and almost the whole day I am in my saltpans these days.”
T he local salt is sold in lata or dabo (tin) for around Rs 60 to 80. A tin contains roughly 12 kgs of salt which means the salt producers get roughly Rs 5 to 7 per kg of salt while most of the industrially produced fine salt roughly cost Rs 20 per kg or more which is much higher cost. However there is more demand for the industrial processed fine iodized salt. Another salt producer said that the labour cost has also increased and there is no support coming from the state government and due to this the mithaagars or saltpans have decreased in the state.
A salt producer said, “I went fully into the local salt production business as it is our traditional business which has been started by our ancestors and several generations of ours 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 and also the market demand has decreased.”
He said that, over the years he is steadily decreasing the area under salt production. “A couple of years back I used to carry out salt production in larger area as there was demand. Now the area under the production of local salt is less and now I am thinking that if I was in a job I would have earned good salary every month and there would have been security of job. In this business there is hardly any profit. We need government support which will encourage us to produce more salt,” he said.
Some locals feel that it is the young generation which need to be encouraged to go to the salt pans and take up the traditional work. “Most youngsters are educated now and this is not a very lucrative job” said a traditional farmer. He said, that the younger generation needs to be encouraged to get involved in the traditional salt production and the government should come forward with some scheme which will encourage them to come in the salt production business. “The government should look at the various problems faced by the local salt producers and solve the issues,” he said.
According to the information available from the sources, there are several issues related to the salt production and the traditional producers face difficulties such as high labour cost as the labourers charges around Rs 500 per day which works out to Rs 15,000 a month. It is difficult to get local labourers and the labourers coming from outside demand for accommodation facility. Then there is transportation problem as hardly any approach roads are there to the saltpans and the salt produced has to be transported manually. The high transport cost also prevents the salt producers from travelling long distances to sell the produce. It may be also noted that the traditional salt producers lack good storage facilities and the salt produced during a particular season if not sold in that season becomes difficult to keep and so the salt producers fears going in for higher salt production.
With several sluice gates broken and in need of repairs saltpans have become unusable. When there is damage to 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 and sometimes if there is more damage to the embankment than the cost is high and it eats into a part of the profit of local salt producers.