Farming on the edge: the Indian salt producers coping with 48C heat - 23rd September
India is the world’s third largest salt producer. More than 80,000 smallholder producer families harvest the salt in the Surendranagar district, its most prolific salt-producing region.
The farmers, many of them women and teenage girls, pump dense, briny water up to the desert plains through handbuilt wells and rake it constantly to form salt crystals as the water evaporates in the blistering sun. This year, the temperature in Gujarat reached a record-breaking 48.4C, making working conditions even harsher.
Scientists predict that climate change is also likely to increase rainfall in the region: “If the rain falls in intense, irregular downpours, with extended dry periods in between, this could introduce a level of unpredictability to the traditional salt farming season, potentially disrupting production,” says Dr Friederike Otto, senior researcher at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.
By the time the farmers have paid for diesel to fuel their pumps, and services such as transport and fresh water to supply their makeshift villages on the edge of the salt flats, it can cost them up to $1.55 to produce each tonne of salt.
The Salt Workers Economic Empowerment Program (SWEEP), a joint initiative between the non-profit Global Fairness Initiative (GFI) and Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), is working to help female salt farmers in Gujarat gain the commercial and technical knowledge to farm salt more sustainably and profitably as the risk of erratic, extreme weather looms.
Founded in 2012, the programme currently supports 2,500 farmers. It provides technical training to improve farming techniques and salt quality, covering aspects such as drilling boreholes, improving salt pan layout and managing pumps more efficiently.
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