Salt farming has long been a traditional livelihood for the Thai people, reflecting their reliance on nature and the use of physical labor instead of machinery to make a living. However, the hard work of traditional salt farming combined with many other problems have become major deterrence for its continuation since the new generation tends to shy away from their predecessor’s way of life. As a result, salt farming as an occupation has gradually disappeared from the Thai society.
Introducing the Salt Route at Samut Sakhon Province
Before traditional salt farming disappears altogether from Thailand and lives on only as a legend, TK park has joined forces with Samut Sakhon Provincial Administrative Organization and Samut Sakhon Knowledge Park (SK park) in organizing the “Salt Route at Samut Sakhon”exhibition and activities. Samut Sakhon was selected for being the province with the largest number of salt farmers and salt fields in Thailand.
According to the 2011 salt farmer registration, Samut Sakhon had 242 salt-farming households and 12,572 rai of salt fields while Petchaburi had 137 salt-farming households and 9,880 rai of salt fields and Samut Songkram had 111 salt-farming households and 4,535 rai of salt fields.
Dr. Tassanai Wongpisetkul,the Deputy Director of the Office of Knowledge Management and Development and the Director of Thailand Knowledge Park (TK park), stated that the “Salt Route at Samut Sakhon” exhibition was the starting point for the promotion and dissemination of salt knowledge project. The above-mentioned three agencies has combined their effort into the dissemination of the body of knowledge on salt farming and the salt farmers’ ways of life in Samut Sakhon Province. It also aims to apply such knowledge to develop higher quality salt products to increase their value and to eventually promote them in the international market.
The exhibition opened a venue for the brainstorming of salt farmers who have spent 30-40 years of their lives in salt farming. Some of these genuine salt farmers were: Uncle Pued - the “salt piling expert”, Uncle Somkid - the “seawater channeling expert” and founder of Thailand’s first salt-farming school, and various salt farmer groups who had been involved in improving salt products for overseas export. One of this group was the Kanghan Thong Sea Salt Occupational group from Petchburi who came to share different techniques of salt farming. There were demonstrations of various uses of sea salt products,such as the traditional Thai ice-cream making, hand-made salt scrub, mixed Tanaka powder and sea salt, and making salted eggs with salt-field soil. The exhibition also featured many fun activities for kids such as windmill making, learning about salt crystals, and watercolor painting with salt sprinkling technique.
Thailand Knowledge Park (TK park) linked this exhibition to other local sources of learning in the salt-farming areas of Samut Sakhon, for example, the salt fields of Ban Bor and Khok Kham sub-districts. There were also informal talk sessions with the practicing salt farmers. Let’s begin with Uncle Pued who was known as the “salt piling expert”.
Uncle Pued or Mr. Likhit Nark-tubtim,57 years old, spent most of his life working against the harsh elements of salt fields. Uncle Pued said that the weather was most crucial to salt farming; drought years were good for salt farmers while years of frequent and heavy rains dampened their prospects to earn a good income. Today’s salt farmers were also faced with the problem of labor shortage as the new generation preferred to work in industrial plants than in salt fields. It was most difficult to find people who seriously want to carry on this occupation.
“7-8 years ago we had about 50% production rate. The percentage is usually lower in years of unsettled weather, for example, it may rain at the point when salt begins to form after the sea water has been left to dry in the sun for some times. If that happens we have to repeat the process all over again. If the salt making cycle is repeated more than once our profits will be gone. In the previous 2-3 years we could farm for 3-4 months only, collecting 1-2 crops per month. For the remaining months of the year hired hands in the salt fields have to look for other job to earn their leaving. Many of them never come back because they prefer a more stable employment. Most of the younger generation have decided on other occupations from the beginning. This situation is even worse among our own children and grandchildren because they have first-hand knowledge and have learned from birth how difficult and physical demanding salt farming can be. They are against working in the rice fields from the start, even though the work is actually less demanding now with the introduction of new equipment and machinery. Still it is really hard work. We constantly have to fight against the elements. The prices of salt products are quite low and unpredictable. The younger generation is usually turned off salt farming for the unsteady sources of income”.
Mr. Ler-phong Junthong,60 years old, is the chairman of the Salt Farming Cooperative of Khok Kharm Sub-district of Muang District and a veteran salt farmer who continues to work with pride on his 40-rai salt fields that he inherited. His salt fields, as well as the salt fields of other 270 salt-farming households in the same area, dated back to the time of King Rama V. Mr. Ler-phong established an “Agricultural Service and Technology Transfer Center” or the “Salt-Farming Learning Center” on his salt fields to educate fellow farmers, interested persons as well as children and youth. The primary objective of the center is to disseminate knowledge on salt farming to the younger generation before it completely disappears. Salt farming is likely to become a discontinued tradition due to the lack of successors.
Mr. Ler-phong said salt farming relied mainly on nature and human labor in the old days, but some new technology which helps improve production has been introduced lately. For example, electrical generators are now used to motorize windmills to channel water in and out of the fields. A new technique of salt farming known as ‘salt farming on canvas’ has recently been introduced with satisfactory result in Petchaburi Province.
“The thing that worries me most today is the disappearance of the salt farming tradition as the number or salt farmers is declining with no replacement from the new generation. It has been more than three years that the cooperative has tried to find ways to keep the tradition going by including it into the curriculum of local schools. We also invite students to visit salt fields to learn about the salt making process and related local salt-making wisdom with the intention of making the new generation recognize and appreciate their ancestors’ salt farming tradition. We want them to be proud of their local occupation and to fulfill the wish and royal benevolence of King Rama V who bestowed these lands upon residents of Khok Kharm Sub-district so that they could make their living from salt making.
Mr. Udom Kraiwattanussorn, the Deputy Chairman of Samut Sakhon Provincial Administration Organization, was of the opinion that apart from preserving and transmitting the salt farming tradition of Samut Sakhon residents, this exhibition would help children and youth to better understand the significance of salt farming. It would also improve the existing knowledge on salt farming for the production of high quality and standard products that can be exported overseas.
“There has been more worldwide interest in the significance of salt. Since the natural way of salt farming is disappearing from our country, this exhibition is a good opportunity to educate people of this fact while helps to preserve and to seek development of new salt production sites and salt routes. Samut Sakhon is the largest salt producing province of Thailand. Salt has always been indispensable and crucial to people’s lives from ancient times, especially for food preservation. The Salt Route Project has been organized to transmit knowledge on salt making process, the lifestyles of salt farmers as well as to disseminate the local salt making wisdom so that it can be used to develop new products that can compete in the international market.
Dr. Tassanai Wongpisetkul also talked about the benefits of this exhibition. “The comprehensive and practical knowledge disseminated in this exhibition can be used to produce a variety of learning media for children, future occupational manual or books on salt-related products and for future exhibitions. The exhibition shows us that a living library is not limited to the production or procurement of books for users but the more important role of a living library is to inspire and stimulate community participation in the promotion and management of local knowledge to the achieve the ultimate goal of creating a learning society in Thailand”.
Let’s come and learn about salt and salt farming tradition at the “Salt Route at Samut Sakhon” exhibition, at Samut Sakhon Knowledge Park, before we have to import salt from overseas!!!