Preeti Verma Lal
June 12, 2019
As dark clouds assembled in the sky, Natanina Pereira stood near a mound of freshly harvested yellowish granular salt and hastened to pick the last ounce from the square salt pans in Goa’s Ribandar. Pereira manages a salt pan owned by her father-in-law and is one of Goa’s few remaining mittkaars (salt makers). For three months each year, March to May, she spends hours every evening harvesting mitt (salt), a Goan tradition that dates back 2,000 years. During monsoon, June to September, the salt pans are left unattended. Salt harvesting, part of the political and social history of India’s smallest state, is tedious, not nearly as lucrative as it once was, and slowly dying.
India is the world’s third largest salt producer after China and the United States, with nearly 70% of its salt derived from the seas. Today, Goa contributes a tiny fraction (<0.1%) of the country’s annual production. This number is dropping rapidly, overtaken by the massive salt marshes of Gujarat (77%), Tamil Nadu’s naturally forming surface salt (11%), and Rajasthan (10%), home to India’s largest salt lake.
Yet, for many years, salt was the livelihood and pride of Goans. An estimated 2,000 years ago, the first mithache agor (salt pan) was put into place to extract salt from Goa’s sea water. The mittkaars — the community whose livelihood depended on salt — may have installed as many as 460 salt pans across 36 villages along the estuaries of the Terekhol, Chapora, Baga, Mandovi, Zuari, and Sal rivers. The locals praised the mineral-rich salt and its many uses. Traditional Goan communities used salt to cure fish, to add iodine to the diets of cattle, and to preserve food.