Abnormal weather has decimated the Philippine salt industry, according to a study presented at a recent conference of the Philippine Population Association held at Silliman University.
Regina Yoma of the University of San Carlos Cebu presented the results of her interviews with salt farmers in two important production areas– Paombong, Bulacan, and Noveleta, Cavite.
The salt farmers said they were highly vulnerable to erratic weather patterns because their farms were dependent on solar evaporation, the traditional way of producing salt.
“Ulyanin na ang panahon (The weather has become senile),” observed one old salt farmer whom Yoma interviewed. The prolonged wet season and rains during the dry season badly affected their farms. Rain dissolves the crystallizing salt in the salt beds and contaminate the brine before the last stage of production, Yoma reported.
In places where the salt beds are adjacent to rivers, flooding is also a big problem.
Bulacan used to supply 45% of the salt requirement in the country at the height of its production in 1980; while Cavite counts salt farming as its major industry. The other big producers are Pangasinan, Mindoro and the places adjacent to Manila Bay.
According to an industry source, up to 1990 Philippine producers still supplied 85% of the country’s salt requirement while imports were only 15% of total supply.
In 1994, the country still produced 300,000 metric tons of salt. But by 2010, production suddenly dropped to less than half (150,000 MT). Conversely during that period, imported salt supply started to shoot up.
According to figures shared by Pacific Farms Inc., the country’s biggest salt producer, importation started to increase sharply in 1998, when El Niño hit the Philippines, followed by La Niña in 1999, 2000, 2001.
By 2009, the bulk of the salt supply came from Australia, at 400,000 MT or 68% of total supply. The Philippines managed to produce only 168,000 MT in that year, or only 28% of total supply.
A much earlier report by the online news site bulatlat.com said economic globalization was also an important reason for the shrinking of the salt industry. Cheap salt imports started flooding the country after 1994, when the Philippine Senate ratified the General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade.
Unable to withstand the competition, many salt farms started closing one after the other, and salt farmers were forced to sell to land developers. Meanwhile their children, seeing no future in the salt farms, started migrating to the cities or abroad, leaving their elders no one to pass on the trade.
The same pattern can be said of Negros Oriental. Abdulianita Calaurian, manager of Sycip Plantation Farmworker’s Agrarian Cooperative in Manjuyod, agreed that climate change affected their production. “When it rains, the salt beds get wet so the production becomes slow.”
For her the biggest problem is competition from commercial white salt. “People tend to get attracted to buying white salt, but they don’t know that white salt is loaded with chemicals, unlike rock salt which is natural and doesn’t harm the body and is much cheaper, too.”
Manjuyod supplies salt to fish traders in Negros Occidental, but in the last two years Calaurian said their demand has decreased, perhaps also due to shortage of fish supply. To sustain their salt production, the Manjuyod salt cooperative started displaying their rock salt in Hypermart and Lee Super Plaza, hoping to sell also at Robinsons and Cang’s soon.
Calaurian urges the government to educate the public on the benefits of natural rock salt and limit the importation of commercial white salt to protect the local salt industry. Yoma, on the other hand, calls on the local governments to manage and preserve the coastal environment with the support of the farmers.—By Royanni Miel M. Hontucan and Celia E. Acedo, SU REnews
Featured image from Ferrigno FIT