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Could India face a salt crunch?

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Salt farmers are finding themselves in a bit of a tough spot as the covid lockdown wipes away most of their peak production season.

In today's post, we analyze the salt production patterns in the country and how they have been affected, our consumption patterns and how they could be affected, and the second-order impacts of the shortage

Salt and Summer

The summer brings cheer to a lot of folks, one of whom is the staple salt industry. The summer sun allows for the salt to precipitate and be collected in the pans, from where it is collected processed and shipped to numerous individuals and firms.

The lockdown in peak summer months of March & April, extending into May has thus affected the industry adversely, which faces multiple issues around both labour shortages and transportation roadblocks.

While major salt sources in Gujarat have been able to work relatively unaffected, salt pans in other states have faced issues in both getting labourers to the salt pan where they can work on the salt collection, as well as getting trucks from the salt pans to the plants where the salt is processed further. But will this mean that they will be little to no salt on your table in the times to come?

Will there be salt on your table?

Fortunately, the situation isn't bad enough to affect the availability of salt on your table, although it might be slightly costlier. Coastal areas of Gujarat where a vast majority of India's salt production comes from have been relatively immune from the lockdown. For a low-cost item consumed in moderation, the spike in prices should be palatable for most people.

Domestic consumption is also a relatively small percentage of the overall salt used in the country. Only around 35% of the salt we produce is used for household consumption with ~43% used in industrial applications and the rest exported, leaving a good buffer to protect domestic consumer interests before the other parties, should it come to that.

The Second-order impacts

While industries and individuals will be broadly protected from the scarcity, not everyone is as lucky. The small scale fishermen are expected to be one of the major parties affected adversely by the shortage driven price spikes.

Another activity that comes to a virtual standstill in the rainy months is fishing. To deal with the issue farmers often dry the excess fish they catch, storing it for "a rainy day", and also selling it in the market to make an extra buck. Salt helps dry and preserve the fish with a kilogram of salt needed for every 10kgs of dried fish. The lack of salt at affordable rates will put a significant dent in the amount of fish that can be dried putting the livelihood and sustenance of a lot of our local fishermen at risk.

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Rakesh Godara
Rakesh Godara
May 13, 2020

I think you should also add to this analysis the above normal rainfall that has been happening in many parts of the country. AFAIK, march experienced 48% above normal rainfall, and April 8%. May also seems to be going above the normal curve. And the frequency of this rainfall being once in every 2 days, makes it even more difficult to produce salt as 2 days worth of labor goes to waste along with all the salt production.

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