Rubbing the wounds of the salt industry
Our salt industry is in a very sad state. We have 36,000 kilometers of shoreline, the fifth largest in the world, which the government could tap for job creation and poverty reduction in the poorest sector of our economy. And yet, we import 93 percent of our salt requirements.
We now import salt from Australia (72 percent), China (19 percent), Thailand (4 percent) and New Zealand (2 percent). Such was not the case before. We were very much self-sufficient. In fact, we were even planning to become a significant salt exporter.
In 1995, the well-intentioned Asin Law (Republic Act No. 8172) was passed. It required the iodization of all salt produced for human consumption to address iodine deficiency.
Though the law had some success after seven years, the Department of Health statistics showed the following: (1) pregnant women had iodine levels of 105 micrograms per liter (mcg/L), way below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended level of 150-249 mcg/L; and (2) lactating women had 77 mcg/L, also below the WHO minimum of 100 mcg/L. Other iodine-improvement measures must definitely be taken to address this issue.
But from a different perspective, the required iodization of salt had a devastating effect on our salt industry. Small and medium scale producers could not produce the facility and machines necessary to fortify salt with iodine. We went from 100-percent to just 7-percent salt sufficient.
Furthermore, our export markets mostly required natural salt, thus rejecting iodized salt. Ironically, we also cannot export any of our products that contain iodized salt.
Therefore, our exporters need to have two production lines for a single product: one for domestic, and another for the export market. This increases costs and makes us uncompetitive. We are losing the opportunity to export not only our salt, but also all our products that have iodized salt.
What is the solution? First, we should continue to promote iodized salt. However, we should look for other ways to improve our iodine deficiency problem without overly relying on iodized salt.
Second, we should amend and improve provisions in the Asin Law requiring all our salt to be iodized. Apart from encouraging the production of non-iodized salt, we should also have other industry development initiatives.
We will not only recover lost jobs, but also create a very significant number of new jobs as we address both of our strong domestic and massive export potential.
Different sectors are also pushing for the following improvements to the Asin Law: (1) require a public-private sector salt road map to rebuild and strengthen our industry; (2) include automatically in all fishpond lease agreements salt farming production as “a valid activity that may be undertaken by the lease holder;” (3) provide funding and technical support needed for “the maintenance, repair and upgrading of existing small farms and newly constructed salt projects;” (4) for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Agriculture to “enhance the capabilities and global competitiveness of potential and existing producers and exporters of sea salt.”
To support small producers, the DTI has identified the contribution of director Andie John Tadeo of the Fisheries and Training Institute of the Don Mariano Marcos State University. He has developed a production technology that should be implemented as a small-scale barangay initiative. It costs much lower than setting up a salt bed and it is easily scalable and very adaptable.
The government should promote both iodized and non-iodized salt. Help our salt industry to thrive, and for sure job creation and poverty reduction in our nation’s poorest sector of coastal communities will certainly follow.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is [email protected]