- By Kyuntha Ngaman
Among the kitchen ingredients people use in the kitchen, none are as basic or widely used as the noble salt. Salt is an essential nutrient for humans and animals as it contains the chemical sodium that helps nerves and muscles, including the heart, to function correctly.
Myanmar’s history with salt
Salt production in Myanmar can be divided into two groups; coast and inland productions. Inland production is where salt is harvested from saltwater springs and wells. Shwebo District once housed a prominent inland salt production industry during the reign of Myanmar’s kings. Takwataw, Hanlin, Sartaung regions and Kyauktaw Village in Sagaing all produce salt for Myanmar. People in Chin State were known to harvest salt from the saltwater springs in Hukaung Valley and more were found in Kamine Township. Another prominent salt producer is found in Shan State at Bawkyo Village in Hsipaw Township.
Coastal salt production is where sea salt is harvested from seawater. In Myanmar, you can find sea salt harvesters in Taninthayi Region, Mon State, Bago Region, Ayeyawady Region, and Rakhine’s coastal region.
When Myanmar fell under British colonial rule, the governing body took direct control of the national salt industry. Up till just before World War II, salt had to be imported for domestic use. In 1908, salt manufacturing was limited to Kyaukpyu, Hanthawaddy, Myaungmya, Pathein, Dawei, Kyaikkhami, Thaton, Myeik, Katha, Sagaing and Shwebo districts to control the production of salt.
The British government systematically levied taxes on salt production in Myanmar and sold back to foreign countries at quadruple the purchasing price.
Early Rakhine salt era
It was in the initial years of the British occupation where Rakhine’s salt business was at its peak. This is evident from the records at Kolkata and Chittagong ports that shows salt from Kyaukpyu District was imported from Kyaukpyu port.
Salt production rose rapidly after the end of WWII. This was intentionally boosted to make Myanmar self-sufficient on domestically manufactured salt with no foreign imports necessary.
After independence, few people get involved in salt production in Rakhine State; boiled salt was produced to meet local demands in Myanmar during 1955-1956. Mass production was carried out in Kyaukpyu District and Maungtaw township and supervisory offices were opened in their respective townships to oversee management.
Salt production was enough only for the State. After 1962, the salt industry survived unsteadily under the Socialist Economic System. But in Rakhine State, production changed from boiled salt to sun-dried salt by means of techniques, helping much development of production in the State.
The steady rise of salt production
Rakhine salt production has developed during post- Socialist Era in 1990s. Mass production of dried salt was widely used in the coastal townships of Kyaukpyu, Thandwe, Gwa, Taungup, Myebon, Pauktaw, Sittway, Ponnagyun, Yathedaung and Maungtaw. But a market for Rakhine salt is sufficient for the locals and upper Paletwa region and India borders.
Myanmar-Bangladesh border trading officially opened in 1995. Sun-dried salt was exported to Bangladesh via border trade especially from Sittway’s borders from 2002 to 2008.
Demand from Bangladesh became so strong that additional salt had to be ordered from the Ayeyawady Region. Salt warehouses proliferated along the banks of Shwemingan brook during these times.
However, salt export to Bangladesh was suspended in 2009, leading to a decrease in Rakhine’s salt production and ultimately a loss of salt market to Bangladesh. In addition, in 2010, smooth salt from Thailand began entering Myanmar with cheaper prices thus sending Rakhine salt production to its lowest level.
Quality production of salt
The efforts of the Rakhine State government reopened trade opportunities with Bangladesh in 2012-2013, but the quality had dropped below Bangladesh’s standards. Their sun-dried salt was now produced with modern techniques and was a cut above the methods used in Rakhine’s producers.
Bangladesh now produces a clean and quality salt by channeling salt water to plastic-spread salt land. Rakhine producers need to implement clean high-quality salt in order to normalize the salt market.
Industrial Raw materials
As Rakhine State is on the edge of the Bay of Bengal, eleven coastal townships are expected to carry out sun-dried salt production successfully. As it is used as common salt as well as industrial raw material; raw salt is used for ice packs and for paper production machines.
By-products from sun-dried salt are marketable items. Magnesium sulphate, calcium sulphate and magnesium hydroxide are produced from — water. Magnesium sulphate can be used in the manufacturing of medicines and calcium sulphate are used in the cement and porcelain factories. Magnesium chloride can be used in rice mills and greatly in need for the production of fertilizers.
Therefore, the development for the market of sun-dried salt can be improved. The State for feasibility for a parcel of land for construction The Rakhine State has a long and beautiful coast and wide areas of paddy land. Thanks to geographic backing for social advancement, it has an abundant supply of rice, fish, meat and natural resources accompanied by invaluable heritage.
Thus, the people of the state will have to try to succeed what they possess in hands to become a modernized region. It is true that Rakhine State is in a good geographic location and possesses plentiful natural resources; its coastal areas are strategically located with the Bay of Bengal.
These conditions create a golden opportunity for the people of the State. Geographically there are a lot of streams and rivers and much plain; forests and mountains and a wide land area will attract a good investment by locals and foreigners. Climate is favorable with natural resources both in land and the sea. As the State is strategically near the Bay of Bengal, it serves as a commercial gate to China, India and other ASEAN countries.
To produce salt of high quality, the latest techniques are required and about K9 million is needed per acre, said salt producers. That is why financial support is required, they said. Ethnic businessmen want assistance from local government for the development of small and middle businesses. At the same time, by-products from salt production should be fully emphasized. Presently, Rakhine salt producers are found to be helpless. To improve Rakhine salt market, to produce salt of higher quality and to penetrate new markets are the harsh realities of the producers’ life.
Arakan Sein, Pen Dali)