Salt industry continues to grow and produce increasing amount of crude salt despite a gloomy weather coupled with frequent rains and cyclones which damages a substantial amount of the product.
Farmers and officials said that production in the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar is on the rise since last decade due to introduction of modern technologies in the factories.
President of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industry Corporation (BSCIC) in Cox’s Bazar Jafar Iqbal Bhuiyan told this correspondent, “We have no shortage in salt production. In fact, production is on the rise since a decade ago.”
Farmers, however, said that unfavorable weather often threatens salt production. On top of this gloomy weather factors – like occasional rains and unexpected cyclones this year, namely, Mocha, Hamoon and the latest Midhila make it a huge challenge for the farmers to cope with meeting the yearly target of 24 lakh metric tonnes.
The issue of available land space for crude salt production is also a big challenge now as more and more land, used for salt production, is being transformed into agriculture land, local sources said.
A local crude salt farmer, Wahidur Rahman, in his mid-forties in Ukhia upazila while sharing his frustrations said, “Due to availability of limited land for salt production the number of farmers are also facing job losses. Reduction in land means a fewer farmers working in the fields. Many of us who gave up salt farming have switched to cultivating seasonal crops now.”
A fellow former salt farmer, Idris Bhuiyan, said, “The once popular salt farming seems to be shrinking every year in Cox’s Bazar. Many farmers feel discouraged as fewer land is now being used for salt farming, especially during the recent time.”
Conventionally, salt used to be produced using field clay near the sea shore, but farmers have now adopted polythene sheets for improved quality.
According to official sources, a total of around 65,000 acres of land is used for producing crude salt mainly in BCIC operated centers (12) in Chittagong and Cox's Bazar, where salt is cultivated in upazilas such as islands of Kutubdia and Maheshkhali, in Cox's Bazar Sadar, neighbouring Ramu, Chakaria, Pekua, Teknaf, Ukhia, Banshkhali, and in Anwara in Chattogram.
The President of Salt Farmers Welfare Association, Shahidullah, told this correspondent, “Modern salt production, no need for import, incentive to farmers, increasing.
The salt largely involves some five million people directly or indirectly, mainly in the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. The total value chain of the salt industry in Bangladesh involves largely two sub-sectoral activities namely-- the refining process which is operated by salt mills and the crude salt production process that involves a significant chunk of marginal farmers of coastal Bangladesh.
According to a BSCIC report recently released, currently, around 51,000 acres of land of Cox's Bazar district accounts for crude salt production by more than 30,000 farmers. In terms of production, around 95 per cent of the 1.8 million metric tonnes of crude salt produced per year in Bangladesh is produced alone in the district.
The salt industry strongly stands on the produced crude salt by the marginal salt farmers who use the solar evaporation method to produce crude salt in the summer seasons during the months between November and May each year.
Most farmers do not own land, they usually obtain land lease to cultivate crude salt. The produced crude salt is then sold to the refineries which perform the task of washing, crashing, iodising and packaging the salt.
Local farmers also demand that they should have access to low interest loans for expansion of the ancestral business of producing crude salt so that more people can have access to job opportunities.