Salt, called sodium chloride by chemists, has been an important and integral part of world history, intertwined with countless civilizations. For example, Roman soldiers were given a special ration of salt known as “salarium argentum,” the predecessor of the English word “salary.”
The first Native Americans to be “discovered” by Europeans in the Caribbean collected sea salt. At the end of the 15th century, when the major European fishing fleets discovered the coast of Great Newfoundland, the Portuguese and Spanish fleets used the “wet” method of salting their fish on board, and the French and English navies used the “dry” or “shore” method of salting fish on dry racks on land. Thanks to this early food processing, French and English fishermen became the first European inhabitants of North America after the Vikings half a century earlier. Without the practice of salting fish, Europeans could have limited their fishing to European shores and delayed the “discovery” of the New World.
A number of industries in the modern world would not exist without salt. The food processing industry, for one, makes extensive use of salt to create a number of products. In addition to preserving food, salt is also used in the production of baking soda, chlorine, and other chemicals.
The Philippines produced large amounts of salt until the 1990s. Pacific Farms Inc. Provinces such as Bulacan, Pangasinan, Occidental Mindoro and Cavite supplied almost 85 percent of the country’s salt demand in 1990, according to a report published by the Region 4-B Department of Science and Technology. In less than a decade, production would decline and the country would rely on foreign producers for its salt needs.
According to DOST, what is destroying the local salt industry is the change in seasonal pattern due to climate change and producers relying on old production methods. As the challenges became insurmountable and salt farming became less attractive, large producers were forced to close their farms or convert their sites to other profitable ventures such as fishponds, residential or commercial properties.
The Philippines, which has the fifth largest coastline in the world, imports about 80 percent of its salt needs from countries such as Australia and China. (See “Occidental Mindoro Boosts Salt Industry Through New Technology” Business Mirror, 28 May 2017). Our reliance on imported essentials such as salt means that the country is compensating foreign producers for things that could be produced locally. Data from the Department of Trade and Industry showed that the value of the country’s salt imports in 2020 and 2021 was $55.32 million or P3.04 billion at current exchange rates.
The amount the Philippines spends on salt imports in 2020 and 2021 is enough to support the livelihood of thousands of local producers. However, reviving the salt industry will require serious efforts by policymakers. This would require the necessary investments in technology and capacity building to enable local manufacturers to compete again with foreign suppliers.
The Department of Labor and Employment noted that the revival of the local salt industry could create 20,000 direct jobs and 80,000 indirect jobs. (See “DOLE revives PHL salt production industry in coastal areas to create jobs” Business Mirror, 9 June 2022). These salt farms can be established in areas where most of the rural poor live.
Key to the industry’s revival is access to technology that will allow farmers to produce salt year-round, even in erratic weather. In addition to allowing farmers access to technology, investors and farmers should also receive concessions, as suggested by a lawmaker who proposed the creation of an inter-agency body to develop a plan for the salt industry. (See “Deputy wants local salt farmers to receive concessions” Business Mirror18 July 2022). Revival of the local salt industry would not only allow farmers to improve their incomes; which will benefit the manufacturing sector.