When the Salt is Gone: The Rainy Season in Alubijid


Salt has been one of the essential minerals in our lives. Ever since the dawn of time, humanity have relied to its various use such as giving flavor to the food we eat and becoming a mean to preserve meat and fish before the age of refrigeration came in. It was also used to clean food since bacteria do not live and persist in a salty environment.

Different methods of salt-making aroused through the ages in different parts of the world. Back then, then mean to get salt is to mine it from underground. Nowadays, salt is not just mined but it is also harvested in salt beds coming from the salt water dried up by the intense heat of the sun. Salt harvested from the sea contains Iodine— a much needed nutrient for our bodies, which is not present in salt that is mined.

The practice of salt-making have paved its way to generate jobs and income to millions of people all through-out the world and the practice has been already an integral part in most culture and societies. With the help of the advancing technology, many of the salt producers in the whole world tend to produce greater amount of salt than ever before.

In spite of this advancement, problems and setbacks are still inevitable for the salt makers. The high incidence of poverty and other issues that concern them especially with the risk of their health in their job.

In India, a hardworking group of people in the state of Gujarat, India has been known traditionally as salt makers; The Aggariyas. From the months of October to June they extract the whitest salt from the Rann of Kutch— a seasonal marsh located in Thar Dessert, Gujarat, India which is 10 kilometers away from the Arabian Sea.

The Aggariyas contribute 75% to India’s total salt produce. But in spite of their years of working hard under the harsh conditions, most of the Aggariya salt farmers still face various concerns especially in their health. Many of the Aggariya salt farmers are too poor to afford the right gears and equipment for their work.

According to Statista.com, the worldwide salt production from 162 million metric tons in 1975, has grown into 255 million metric tons in 2016 with China, United States of America, India, and Germany as the leading salt-producing countries with a combined 52.76% from the total world produce of salts. This means that there an increase on the productivity of salt for the last four decades.

In the Philippines, being an archipelago surrounded by seas is abundant and capable enough to harvest salt. Some provinces of the country that have been known for producing large tons of salt are Pangasinan, Bulacan, and Occidental Mindoro. The western town of Dasol in Pangasinan has been one of the leading suppliers of solar-produced salts in the country given that it has been producing for eight decades. The town alone produces 18,000 metric tons of salt.

But like the Aggariyas in India, Filipino salt farmers are not free from problems like prevalence poverty and the climate change. The unpredictable action of weather makes it hard for our country’s salt makers to produce large amount of salt the way India could. Other concerns include the less technology being applied in the process of salt-making in the solar salt farms that would optimize the salt production of our country.

Indeed, the issues and concerns of the salt makers in the whole world are in-line with what the Eighth Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations is trying to promote and to address— To promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Alubjid Salt: An Ilonggo Legacy

On October 8, right after few of my classmates and I went to Talakag, Bukidnon to set up our Lansad Dekada photo exhibition in the town hall, I made my way ahead to Alubijid, Misamis Oriental, two towns away from my home in Cagayan de Oro City in the afternoon. This small municipality in the western part of Misamis Oriental homes the four-decade industry of solar salt farming and has been known for it throughout the province.

It was a tough decision for me to risk going alone with a limited amount of money in an unfamiliar place with no assurance if I could really find the place and people I am looking for. Bringing only the hope that I could find a story of hard work and perseverance worth sharing for from that place.

When I arrived at the over-pass of Alubijid, I really feel perplexed with what to do and where to go next. So I made a phone call to the mother of my friend from El Salvador City, who pitched me the salt-farmers of Alubjid, if what I should be doing next. Then, she told me to ride a motorcycle which is colloquially termed as “Habal-habal”

I followed what she said and I rode a Habal-habal. Co-incidence it could be or what, but it seems that the destiny had really dictated me to ride to the motorcycle of a certain Hernani Espinosa; the son of an Ilonggo who brought the knowledge and help to pioneer the solar salt making in the town  42 years ago.

THE SON. Hernani Espinosa, formerly working as a salt farmer and currently the President of Handicrafts Association of Alubijid, who at that time was having his past time which is to drive habal-habal motorcycle shares the background and history on how the industry of Salt Making arrived in town.

POURED. Empty salt paddies of the Yasay family of Opol are filled with water as heavy rainfall continues to pour. The frequent rainfall during the rainy season makes it difficult for the Salt farmers in Alubjid to produce salt during periods of August to January .

According to Hernani Espinosa, their family came from Nabitasan, Leganes, Iloilo City and his father named Jesus Espinosa used to work as a salt farmer in their place. When a certain Jose Gustelo from Igpit, Opol, Misamis Oriental visited there to join their fiesta, Gustelo was fascinated by how the Nabitasan people earned big from having solar farm salts and he thought of putting up salt farms in his estates he owned near the sea in Mindanao.

Ang ako jung tatay kay miska’g wala siya nakatiwas og eskwela, kay naa jud siya’y ka-alam sa paghimo sa asin kay didto sa amo-a kay trabahante ra gud siya sa alasina didto pero kay naa man gyud siya’y maayo nga ka-alam kay gi-recommend gyud siya sa iya agalon kay Gustelo.” he shared.

[“Though Father was not able to pursue and finish his studies, but because he has the know-how on salt making, even if he is just an ordinary employee, he was really recommended by his employer to Jose Gustelo”]

Upon the recommendation of a friend, Gustelo asked Jesus Espinosa to come here in Mindanao and have his lands that he owned to be checked if there is a potential for a solar salt farm to be built. After Jesus Espinosa checked the lands owned by Gustelo, He advised Gustelo that he cannot start a salt making industry in Igpit, Opol for it is near the river that would make difficult for a salt to be produced. Instead, he urged Gustelo to start putting up a solar salt-farm in Barangay Baybay, Alubijid because of its conducive location of near the sea and away from any bodies of fresh water.

Gustelo decided to put up a solar salt farm in his lands that he owned in Baybay, Alubijid where he tapped Jesus Espinosa to spearhead the establishment of the salt farm. So, Jesus Espinosa decided to move along with his family from Nabitasan, Leganes Iloilo City to the small town of Alubijid, Misamis Oriental. Jesus Espinosa had also tapped 20 of his relatives from Iloilo who are also salt makers to work for Gustelo’s Salt Farm where their families had also settled to town.

LASTING BRICKS. Hernani Espinosa explains that the tiles used for salt beds in Yasay Salt Farm came from their hometown in Leganes, Iloilo City which has been also known for its fine quality of brick tiles that would last for a long period of time.

Hence, most of the population of the Ilonggos, nowadays, in Alubijid are related to one another because they drew their roots from their grandparents who pioneered their settlement to the town to work for Gustelo’s salt farm.

After seeing the good outcome of Gustelo’s solar salt farm, rich families like the Conception and Yasay have also invested in Salt Farmng in Baybay, Alubijid in later years. They have also tapped Jesus Espinosa to help them out set their own salt farms until the salt making industry have become one of the major industries that the Municipaility of Alubijid is proud of.

Where do salt makers go?

I have already anticipated that I would not see people harvesting salt in any of the solar salt farms in Alubijid for it is still rainy season and it is difficult to extract solar salt when heavy rainfall is frequent. But this does not stopped me to visit and check how the people continuously earns income when the salt is gone; when they set aside salt making and they tend to do something else.

After my first visit in the area where I have interviewed the younger Espinosa, I made another visit on October 10 where the weather is much better than my first visit. Upon that second visit, I have discovered that salt-makers do not just wait for another summer time to come then that it is by then that they would earn money once again; those who are near the swamps tend to produce handicrafts made of a local grass they named as Patati or Lampakanay, while other salt makers are in the bay to catch fish.

During my second visit, I was able to take a shot of salt beds of the Yasay family solar salt farm after a heavy rainfall poured the field when I did first visited the place.

Few meters away is the office of Southern Philippines Development Authority’s (SPDA) Integrated Solar Salt and Fishing Farm Project. This Project was established in 1976 when the salt making industry in the town is about to boom. It helped to the establishment of small salt producers in the area. The project was able to create 1.5 hectares crystallizing area; 6.5 hectares of evaporation ponds; 2.5 hectares of other support facilities such as office building,warehouse and pump house; and 800 square meter parcel of land fronting the Administration Building

Leaves of Lampakanay are are arrayed and dried across the road leading to the Purok 3 of Baybay, Alubijid. These leaves grows naturally in the swaps of Purok 6 and these leaves are being used to create handicrafts like baskets, ropes, and mats or “banigs” which is sold mostly.

As years go by, the people of Baybay have ventured into various income-generating jobs. Weaving using the Lampakanay leaves gave an opportunity to the people of Purok 6 to find other sources of income aside from relying alone on salt making. It could be the newest industry of the town after people from the Purok 6 were held in a seminar on the uses of Lampakanay in 2001, it made Alubijid more known as it also one of the sources soft banigs made out of Lampakanay.

Daisy Ubarco, a resident of Purok 6, Baybay, Alubijid is a salt maker who found weaving Mats or “Banigs” out of Lampakanay leaves worthy of getting income. At first, it was just her and her husband’s past time when they do not have something to do at home. But when she found out how their past time could help them shoulder their day-to-day expenses,she thought of generating income from it.

The Lampakanay plant grows naturally in the waterlogged areas of Purok 6, there is no maintenance needed for the plants. Thus, the capital needed she needed to start up is only her time and effort.

Ang nakamaayo man gud ani sir kay dili na kinahanglan kayo og dako kaayo nga kwarta i-kapital para makasugod mi kay gatubo ra man na og iya ss daplin og kusog ra man sad ang pununan gyud ani… mahuman dayun kay ako man dal-on og isuroy sa mga lahi-lahi nga mga lungsod,” she shared.

[“The good thing in this work sir is that it does not require us to have a big capital money to start up due to the fact that it only grows nearby… after it is done then I have all the banigs we can produce being old in different towns”]

The Banigs that she and her husband are producing costs 150 pesos compare to the 250-300 peso price if it’s already sold in retail stores.Although the range between their price is too low than the price from that of the ones being sold in retail stores, she is still thankful with the additional money she gets especially in helping shoulder the needs of her youngest son and his grand children who are already in College and Senior High School.

As I venture their world, I came to realization that weaving is not just an industry which tends to bind strips of grasses or yarns to form a fabric or mat; but it is the art that binds families and communities tighter than ever before.

After I have interviewed and mingled with Nanay Daisy’s family, I made my way to the Purok 1 of Babay, Alubijid to look for another Salt-maker. As my feet reaches the coast of Barangay Baybay, I am fortunate to meet Marlyn Magdugo, a native from Gitagum, Misamis Oriental who moved to Purok 3, Baybay,Alubijid after marrying his husband named Lester. They earn their family income from his husband’s catch from the sea and from the harvest they get from the fish farms.

They used to earn income from salt-making during summer by producing their own. Marlyn prepares a large plastic cellophane where  they to the process of solar salt making given they live beside the sea. Every month during summer season , they are capable of producing 40 sacks of Class B which is sold to the makers of dried fish or “bulad” from Zamboanga.

Mr. and Mrs. Magdugo are doing their best to find sources of income, especially that they want to give a brighter future to their children who are still in Elementary and Senior High School, so they may be able provide their needs.

Ang pangandoy gyud nako para sa ila (sa akong mga anak) sir kay ang makatiwas gyud sila kay para puhon kay makabati sad sila sa arang-arang nga kinabuhi og kana pong malinawon.” She smilely shared.

Marlyn , along with her husband Lester, prepares the fishing net that her husband will be using for fishing  in the dawn the following day. Lester frequently catches Budlisan and Taalakitok fish, which he and the rest of the fisher folks tend to sell to the retailers in a nearby market.

Through the help of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Local Government Unit of Alubijid, Lester was able to become one of the beneficiaries of the Municipality Livelihood Program which distributed fishing boats to those indigent and deserving individuals like the Magdugo family. Now, the Magdugo family are now capable of having consistent source of income to rely on aside from Salt making.

 

 

***

After a very long  and exhausting day and amidst  all the things that I have left in the City that keeps on nagging me while doing this story, I cannot help but to feel refreshed and  be filled with awe  and gratefulness in my heart as I witness how the sunset goes in-front of this wide salt paddies. At the end of he day, I can say that I was not wrong in taking the risk to go in this quite unfamiliar place alone with a preconception that I would not be able to see any salt maker working in the field in this rainy season.

Nevertheless, Having been able to take a glimpse of their  the day-to-day living,I can say that the salt-farmers of Barangay Baybay, Alubijid, Misamis Oriental are, indeed, people of genuine hard work and perseverance. Despite of the fact that they are incapable of producing the product they most known for during these rainy times, they did not let anything hinder them from developing their skills and knowing other things they could be capable of.

Like the salt that they produce, this community is a catalyst itself on how they could be a leading example or a role model to other communities that there are options that the people can  always choose from to foster decent ans sustainable living. If they are willing to walk the extra-mile even if the “salt is gone.”

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Worth Their Salt: A Fascinating Glimpse into the World of the Hardworking Salt Farmers of Kutch by Sanchari Pal (www.thebetterindia.com)

In Pangasinan, salt farms start drawing attention of tourists by Gabriel Cardinioza (newsinfo.inquirer.net)

SPDA Integrated Solar Salt and Fish Farm (http://www.spda.gov.ph/home/projects/viewArticle/SPDA%20Integrated%20Solar%20Salt%20and%20Fish%20Farm&currpage=1&SubCat)

World Salt Production from 1975 to 2016 (in million metric tons) by Statista.com (https://www.statista.com/statistics/237162/worldwide-salt-production/)

Goal 8 -Sustainable Development Goal by Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform (un.org)

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2 thoughts on “When the Salt is Gone: The Rainy Season in Alubijid

  1. Thank you for your article. Glad that you visited the salt farm. You are welcome to come back during the salt season on summer march-may, so you can check the salt production..

    Liked by 1 person

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