No shortage in salt yet, but govt must help dying sector

Focus these days is once again on the dying salt industry in the Philippines, a “shameful” situation for an archipelagic country with one of the longest coastlines. From the few remaining salt beds of Barangay Santa Isabel in Kawit, Cavite and a repacking store in Parañaque City, rock salt makes its journey to consumers’ tables. Press Secretary Beatrix Cruz-Angeles said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is coordinating with other agencies to conduct R&D programs to increase the production of marginal and artisanal salt makers. This would augment the implementation of BFAR’s P100-million Development of the Salt Industry Project for salt makers in Regions 1, 6 and 9.

A SALT shortage is possible if the needs of the salt industry won’t be addressed by the government, according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

During a radio show on Saturday, DTI-Consumer Protection Group (CPG) Undersecretary Ruth B. Castelo said manufacturers have confirmed that there’s no actual shortage in salt.

However, Castelo said, “But there is potential shortage kung hindi sila maaasistehan ng government [if they won’t get help from the government].”

Castelo said that the salt industry needs to be developed and it should coordinate with the appropriate agencies as the industry also has its fair share of concerns, especially related to local production.

In fact, the Trade undersecretary cited agricultural lands for salt production being converted into commercial and residential areas as among the concerns of the industry.

“First among their concerns, agricultural land used in salt production is being converted; they’re becoming commercial, residential, for subdivisions or buildings, or condominiums. But there are many farmers involved in the salt industry so we really have to help them so they can  maintain the industry,” said Castelo.

The Trade undersecretary said that while the Philippines, an archipelagic country, has 37,000 kilometers of shoreline and while Vietnam only has about 3,000 km of shoreline, Vietnam is able to export salt.

Ironically, with the long shoreline figure in the Philippines,  “we are able to produce only 7 percent of the total requirement of the country,” said Castelo.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) also said earlier that at least 93 percent, or 550,000 metric tons of the salt supply in the country is being imported, and only 7 percent is locally produced, despite the country’s more than 36,000 kilometers of shoreline.

Still, the Trade official said she is hopeful since Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual “is into industry development,” and that with such thrust for industry development, the DTI is fully equipped to address the issues and concerns of industries.

In a separate televised interview, Castelo said that the country currently has 32 salt manufacturers and eight companies that repack salt.

As for the price increase in salt, Castelo noted that it won’t affect dried salted fish such as Tuyo and Daing since “the prices that we increased are the ones that you buy in supermarkets or grocery stores” or the ones for household consumption.

Castelo added that the dried salted fish has a different source of salt since producers are using industrial salt or rock salt.

Earlier, Castelo said DTI approved the price increase for salt in the Suggested Retail Price (SRP) Bulletin published on August 12 because some manufacturers have not enjoyed a price increase in the past four to six years. This—and not the alleged shortage in salt— is why local manufacturers of salt increased their prices, Castelo noted.

The BusinessMirror reported last week that Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva filed Senate Resolution No. 100 to look into how the government can revive the salt production industry to create jobs and spur economic development.

The senator expressed alarm over the recent DA statement that the Philippines cannot produce enough salt for its own needs because of government neglect over the past 15 years. He added that this is “quite shameful” for an archipelagic country with more than 36,000 kilometers of shoreline.

The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. had recently said the country currently imports 93 percent of its salt from Australia and China. This, Villanueva noted, is a stark contrast from 1990 when the country was only importing 15 percent of its requirements.

Villanueva said the government must immediately address major hurdles to developing the country’s salt production industry, such as the lack of proper storage facilities, and of equipment such as water pumps and boats for hauling and storing salt.

Image credits: BusinessMirror/Nonie Reyes



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