India’s salt workers get help from social enterprise
Monday, April 1, 2013
The hostile desert landscape in the Little Rann of Kutch in western Gujarat state is where 10,000 small-scale labourers produce salt. About 70% of India’s salt comes from Gujarat, where 70,000 people are self-employed in the industry. India is the world’s third-largest salt producer, after China and the US.
Agariyas (saltpan workers) are exposed to extreme working conditions. They contend with temperatures that can reach 50C in the summer, and drop to 3C degrees in winter. It is common for the workers to suffer high blood pressure, and eye and skin diseases due to salt-leaden winds and intense sun glare.
Almost 50% of India’s salt production is for domestic consumption (eating); the rest goes into chemical industries. Of the edible salt market, more than 60% is unregulated and dominated by small-scale producers.
Self-employed producers have to borrow money from exploitative lenders-cum-traders who fix a low price for the salt. Rarely do workers receive more than 1% of the market value of the salt they produce.
“Since they do not have cash and access to institutional credit, they have to borrow money from traders who provide credit, with the condition that the price of salt is fixed at 100 rupees/1,000kg. The market cost of processed salt is substantially more at 14,000/1,000kg,” says Rajesh Shah, 62, an entrepreneur who established a social enterprise company called Sabras in 2007 with the aim of increasing profits for small-scale producers.