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Salt farmers in Pemba optimistic about future prospects

SALT has been produced locally along coastal areas of Pemba Islands for long as one of income generating activities for both men and women, but their efforts to grow has been hampered by lack of modern equipment and lack of reliable market.

In overcoming the challenges, the farmers have been asking the government to establish salt processing plant to add value on their locally produced salt and meet demands of both regional and global market.

Salt farmers Mr Mbarouk Hamad Yussuf and Ms Ziada Abbasi Machano in Kanga-gani coastal village say efforts to overcome the challenges have started, following the lunch of salt brand ‘ZALT’ made in Pemba Islands.

“It is a fact that major challenges in salt farming had been low or no production during rain season, and lack of reliable market, a frustration to some many farmers,” said Mbarouk and Ziada at different occasion after the launch of the ZALT salt brand.

Ms Ziada said that despite the challenges, she has been farming since 1998 and it pays, “We have benefited, I and my husband, each has a salt farm. We earn money that enable us pay for essential needs for domestic use, meet school requirements for our children and improved our house.”

The farmers put the solar dried salt in bags weighing 50 kilograms and sell at the prices that ranges between 16,000/- and 21,000/- depending on the quantity harvested and demand. Due to heavy rains, there was no salt harvest in 2019/2020.

But according to farmers Mbarouk and Ziada the harvest in 2018/2019 was good for most of the farmers, and they produced 300 and 500 bags respectively selling to the ‘Swahili Coast Salt Company (SCSC)’ established in 2017.

Both men and women, almost equally are salt farmers, and as the SCSC expands its factory, people have been encouraged to get engaged in the farming, and more jobs would be created in the salt processing.

SCSC is now mentioned as a reliable market for salt from farmers, which will arguably to improve salt farming and production in Pemba Island where there are estimated more than 70 small salt farms.

After working with about 27 farms for almost four years, SCSC has successfully launched its salt brand which meets the required standards as approved by Zanzibar Bureau Standards (ZBS) and the Zanzibar Foods and Drugs Agency (ZFDA).

Ambassador Amina Salum Ali officiated the launch of the of the first ever salt brand, at the event held at the ‘6Degrees South’ tourists’ restaurant, Stone Town where she said Zanzibar was on track to achieve industrialisation mission of environment-friendly and sustainable industrial sector, capable of creating jobs and improve the lives of the people.

“We have been going on well in our mission to improve the number of industries, and our plan is to launch at least one new industry/factory each month. In response to instruction from our top leaders: President John Magufuli and his Zanzibar counterpart Ali Shein, we are determined to make industrialisation a reality,” Ms Amina said.

She said the salt from the new factory in Pemba Islands is already being sold (price ranges between USD $8 and USD $15 package) to tourists’ hotels. SCSC intends to target international markets as the company can now meet global standard of salt with standard packaging.

The Minister said that more than ten thousand families benefit from the salt industry in Pemba directly for their income, but also all of the ancillary businesses involved in the industry (logistics, sales, etc) also benefit. And that building salt industry in Pemba will have a significant impact on the people of Pemba, through economic empowerment and sustainable development.

The successful launch of the salt work is a result of hard work by three women investors: Ms Stephanie Said, Ms Lise Wienand, and Ms Rachel Cocker, who have since 2017 been working closely with artisan salt farmers of Pemba and world-leading salt works experts to improve the solar salt farming.

Ms Stephanie “We have been able to produce the quality of hand-harvested sea salt, right from local shores of the Indian Ocean. Together with the Global Alliance for improved Nutrition (GAIN), we have developed an iodisation strategy for the salt produced in Pemba to combat iodine deficiency disorders here.”

She said that on average farm employs around 10 people, but another 10 can be added as daily labour when harvesting salt, “We are currently working with 20 of the 75 farms in Pemba and will be adding farms as we grow.” The normal seasons for harvest are from July through October and again from December to March.

During the peak of the season, salt is harvested twice a month. It is estimated that the current volume that could potentially come out of all of the farms in Pemba is around 6,000 tons annually, however with the heavy and sporadic rains over the past nine months, there has been very little harvested.

Ms Stephanie “Rain is a challenge that has impacted the sea salt industry throughout East Africa. Our hope is that we can work toward 15,000 tons per annum over the next 10 years. We purchase the salt at market price from the farmers, so the price varies throughout the year.”

Access to finance for the farmers was a huge challenge, but she said that with support of the ‘Enabling Growth through Investment and Enterprise Program (ENGINE, a USAID-Funded program in Tanzania, SCSC provides a comprehensive capacity building package for farmers.

In efforts to assist farmers get access to finance, Stephanie said SCSC has been partnering with micro, Small and Medium Industrial Development Agency (SMIDA) which is a parastatal industrial development agency operating under the Ministry of Trade and Industries, and that SMIDA’s Director Mr Hajji Abdulhamid has worked hard to ensure that the farmers will have access to zero percent interest loans now.

Access to fund enables the farmers to have equipment that increases the productivity of their farms along with having consultants to train the farmers on how to improve both the quality and the quantity of their salt. The biggest challenge this year has been the weather, rain season, “You need sun for solar salt farming and the persistent rains over the past year have led to a very disappointing season. We are all hoping that the July to October season will be a very productive one!”

Stephanie said plans are underway to build a modern salt processing facility where it will be dried, processed and packaged for distribution in the near future.

Currently ZALT brand in processed, flavoured, and blended by hand and packed into different forms and size, is available in restaurants and boutiques, across Zanzibar and will be available internationally by the end of this year (2020).

Ms Cocker said the objective of SCSC is to shape an ecosystem for the sustainable growth-one pinch of salt at a time. “We provide a route to the market for the farmers, creating sustainable economic development for the industry.”

She said that with the ZALT products, a portion of the proceeds is paid through dividends to the farmers and communities, “Our underlying philosophies of ZALT are: Maintaining mindfulness towards the environment, working diligently to create a sustainable business, and affect a positive influence on those with whom we work.”

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