Occidental Mindoro boosting salt industry through new tech

Photo from http://langyaw.com/

Occidental Mindoro, once one of the biggest salt producers in the country, is trying to reclaim its old glory. The Department of Science and Technology-Mindor, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan (DOST-Mimaropa) came to the province’s succor to redevelop the industry through a new technology

Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña recently met Occidental Mindoro local government officials and salt farmers in the municipality of San Jose to express his support to the province’s goal of moving toward the development and sustainability of their salt industry.

Occidental Mindoro is surrounded by saltwater, making it one of the biggest salt-producing provinces in the country. At the height of its production in 1990, it boasted of producing and supplying about 60,000 metric tons (MT) of the 338,000 MT, or 18 percent of the country’s annual salt requirement.

While Occidental Mindoro still supplies salt in neighboring provinces in Southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, only 12 percent of national salt requirement, or almost 75,000 MT, of 590,000 MT comes from the province.

A report published by Pacific Farms Inc. on salt production said it was once a vibrant industry in the country. In 1990 provinces like Bulacan, Pangasinan, Occidental Mindoro and Cavite could supply almost 85 percent of the country’s annual salt requirement.

However, it has since been crippled by the country’s vulnerability to climate change. Large producers from Las Pinas, Cavite and Bulacan were forced to close down their salt farms, or convert their areas into other profitable ventures, such as fishponds, residential, or commercial properties.

Dwindling salt production gave rise to more salt importation. Now, only 20 percent of the country’s salt is locally produced, while the remaining 80 percent is imported from big salt-producing countries, like Australia and China.

While the potential of the salt industry is huge because of its universal need, it was doomed by the twin causes of seasonal pattern change due to climate change and the salt producers’ reliance on age-old production methods.

To save the industry, the local government of Occidental Mindoro called for government agencies to help out and invest in research that will boost the country’s salt industry and increase the income not only of salt-farm owners but also of salt-farm workers in the province.

Rep. Josephine Y. Ramirez-Sato of the Lone District of Occidental Mindoro once said: We need support in terms of research and product development and we can be very competitive.”

The DOST-Mimaropa has immediately responded to the province’s call and stepped up efforts to develop its salt industry by helping in adopting a new technology that will allow year-round production of salt even under erratic weather patterns.

The new technology will be preceded by research and development (R&D), spearheaded by DOST-Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI) to assess the technology’s potential for an improved harvest in salt farms in Occidental Mindoro.

The R&D will include a gathering of scientific baseline data to identify significant information on salt production, such as new processes to be involved, quality of salt to be produced, and the amount of salt that will be harvested.

According to Dr. Annabelle Briones, deputy director of DOST- ITDI, R&D will help in achieving the self-sustainability of the salt industry in Occidental Mindoro and, eventually, in the Philippines.

The new technology comes with an improved saltern design, or a set of pools in which seawater is left to evaporate to make salt, and layout, which will enhance the production process and the quality of the salt produced The new technology lowers the cost of production while developing a salt crystallization process that can withstand rainy season.

Through this, Occidental Mindoro will be able to harvest more salt by ensuring production year-round or even during the off-season, as well as develop by-products, such as gypsum and bitterns, which are seen to generate more income for both salt farmers and salt producers in the province.

The improved salt-production method will lead to 95-percent to 99-percent purity in the salt produced from the 80 percent to 92 percent before.

This will allow the province’s salt industry to expand their market from fisheries, fertilizer makers and patis (fish sauce) and bagoong (fish or shrimp paste) producers only to food, pharmaceutical and other industries. Besides R&D support, Briones said another project would focus on the value-adding of salt or new salt product development for the province. The technology aims to make the Philippines salt production to be on a par with other salt-producing countries.

In this two-day visit to the province, de la Peña talked about the economic future of the province and how the salt industry could play a crucial role.

He reiterated the agency’s commitment to continued support to programs and projects for salt-industry rehabilitation, focusing on salt production, through the provision of technological assistance and other science and technology-related services.

He emphasized that besides R&D, the DOST could also help in making Occidental Mindoro’s salt industry more vibrant and competitive by providing additional salt-production technologies, through its Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (Setup).

The revolutionization of the salt industry will begin with the testing of the prototype of the improved salt-production technology in a salt farm in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, owned by JALD Industries Corp.

JALD, owned by Arnold Duque, is one of the major salt producers in Occidental Mindoro and an assisted enterprise of DOST-Mimaropa under Setup. The first phase of the project is set to begin this 2017.

The result from the R&D activities will be used as a guide for the Phase 2 of the project, the verification trial in 2018.

During his visit, de la Peña was joined by other DOST officials, including Dr. Maria Patricia Azanza, director of Industrial Technology Development Institute; Dr. Edwin Villar, deputy director of Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development; Lita Suerte-Felipe of the Department of Legislative Liaison Office; and Donald Amado Caballero of the Science and Technology Committee, House of Representatives.

S&T Media Service