Salt production in Goa is a more than 1500 years old traditional industry, practised by various communities like the Mitthgaudas, Agris, Gauddos to name a few. Historically, these communities were exclusively engaged in the traditional occupation of salt making and belonged to villages primarily from four talukas (districts), that were situated on the banks or estuaries of the 6 major rivers of Goa. The salt that was harvested in the state, in it’s most natural form – a crystalline mineral known as Rock salt or Halite – was widely believed to be of far superior quality. Known for its distinct flavour, the uses and benefits of this organic, natural product were manifold and not only was it highly sought after in the domestic markets, but was also one of the biggest export commodities and continued to be so, almost into the late1950s.
The Salt pans – the Mittache Agor or Mitt gars, Mitt being salt in Konkani – are reclaimed Khazan lands, which are basically waterlogged saline floodplains along Goa’s multiple estuaries that are used for various agricultural, piscicultural purposes.
A salt pan broadly consists of three distinct kind of pans – the Reservoir, storage reservoir and the crystalliser pan. Raw material in the form of saline water from the nearest estuary, is released into the first reservoir pan, which is usually the biggest and deepest, in a highly controlled manner through sluice gates. Once the water in the reservoir pan has reached a desired level of salinity through natural evaporation, it is released into the much shallower, storage reservoir / evaporator pan, where the water continues to further evaporate, increasing salinity before finally being released into the crystalliser pans. By the time the water has reached the crystalliser pans, production of salt starts taking place. The more humid and hot the weather gets – the higher the production of salt. The salt crystals that are formed on the surface are collected with the help of a long wooden rake known and the collected salt is then piled in heaps on the ridges of the bunds. Left to dry overnight, come morning - this fresh, highly organic and natural salt is ready for consumption and sale.
The entire process is essentially done in two phases : The Preparatory phase and the harvesting phase.
Phase I : October – January : During this phase the salt pans, which by now are completely submersed in rainwater, are first drained out with the help of motor pumps. Preparation of the salt pan beds commences with the help of workers who smash the mud with water with their feet. An initial test harvest is usually done during this period, where small quantities of salt are produced – a process that helps in further settling the salt-pan beds and getting them ready for the main harvest season.
Phase II : February – May : The advent of summer signals the beginning of the harvesting phase. Starting in February and all through the peak summer, literally till the first day of monsoons – the production of salt is virtually unstoppable.
Current scenario :
The most alarming fact of this traditional industry today, is the catastrophic dip in actual number of salt pans in existence – a mere 20 compared to the 400+ pans spread across the state. The factors contributing to this rapid decline are multifold.
* Loss of demand : Owing to an aggressive marketing strategy by multinational Iodised-salts who built a debilitating campaign around the dangers of consuming non-iodised salt. A firm spotlight was shone on the health hazards presumably from consuming this organic, non-iodised salt and ranged from brain damage to goiter (thyroid gland) to slowed metabolism, that had consumers buying into the fear of IDD ( iodine deficiency disorder).
* Lack of structured labour : Failure to find and retain a reliable work force to last through the entire season of a salt harvest, is one of the biggest hurdles.
* Complete apathy from the Local government : There is no scheme or subsidies in existence to help the mittkaars towards the high-maintenance costs of running a salt pan nor is there support with the marketing/ promotion of the product .
The scant few remaining salt pans that are still operational today are doing so because of the perseverance and the single-minded determination of the individual mittkaar. If not for these few individuals, this once flourishing and vital traditional industry, would have come to a grinding halt many years back.
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