The salt industry in the Philippines, once a thriving sector in the 1990s, is now struggling to meet the demands of its population, resulting in a heavy reliance on imports from countries including Australia and China. This overreliance on imports has significantly impacted local producers, who are facing tough competition as imported salt floods the Philippine markets.

Recognizing the pressing need for intervention, the Department of Agriculture – National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (DA-NFRDI), in collaboration with the DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), took the initiative to trailblaze the implementation of the Development of Salt Industry Project (DSIP).

In October 2022, the Fisheries Postharvest Research and Development Division (FPHRDD) of NFRDI conducted a comprehensive profiling of salt producers across the country. This component of the project aimed to gather essential baseline data, address existing information gaps, and provide policy recommendations, interventions, and strategies through Key Informant and survey interviews with stakeholders including BFAR regional and provincial offices, local government units (LGUs), and industry key players.

Furthermore, the DSIP extended assistance to selected beneficiaries by providing necessary supplies and materials needed from pre- to post-production. This included items such as solar salt production inputs, salt washer equipment, and the rehabilitation of processing facilities. By supporting cooperatives and associations, the initiative ensured their ability to sustainably grow and compete in the market.

The FPHRDD study revealed a major setback that deterred the growth of the salt industry in the Philippines: the “Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide (ASIN) Law” or the Republic Act (RA) No. 8172. The law mandates that all salt for human and animal consumption must be iodized. However, coupled with the lack of training, funds, and resources to comply with the mandatory salt iodization, small-scale producers opt to entirely halt their salt operations.

In response to these challenges, the Philippine government enacted RA No. 11985, also known as the Philippine Salt Industry Development Act, on March 11, 2024. This breakthrough legislation, signed by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr., aims to revitalize the salt industry, stimulate local production, and create job opportunities. By consolidating Senate Bill No. 2243 and House Bill No. 8278, RA 11985 establishes a comprehensive roadmap for the industry’s development, encompassing management strategies, projects, and interventions in research and development, processing, utilization, business modernization, and commercialization.

Continuing efforts of NFRDI involve mapping suitable areas in provinces specified in RA 11985, most of which are characterized by distinct dry and wet seasons. These provinces include Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, La Union, Zambales, Bataan, Antique, Iloilo, Quezon, Marinduque, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, and Misamis Oriental. Leveraging the country’s extensive 36,289 km coastline, potential areas for salt production are being identified to enhance industry output. Surveying and delineating existing and proposed production areas are crucial for validating suitability maps in these provinces.

Moreover, on-site observation and documentation of artisanal salt-making methods aim to capture traditional techniques and practices, such as leached brine boiling method in Ilocos, Asin sa Buy-o in Zambales, Asin Tibuok in Bohol, Budbud in Iloilo, and Tultul in Guimaras. This effort supports product standardization and evaluation of existing production practices.

A thorough supply and value chain analysis of salt that involves engaging with key stakeholders such as importers, traders, distributors, retailers, and consumers is also being carried out. Through interviews and surveys, critical issues in the salt value chain are identified, allowing for the development of targeted policy recommendations and strategies to foster industry growth.

Moving forward, NFRDI is closely collaborating with the DA-Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (DA-PHilMech) to spearhead the development of the latest technology in salt production, as mandated by Section 16 of the newly established RA 11985. This includes technology that allows uninterrupted year-round salt production, even under erratic weather patterns. Additionally, the developed technologies are required to facilitate the mechanization of the salt production process from pre- to postharvest, and promote alternative methods and cost-effective techniques for solar production.

Collaboration between various government agencies, private sector, and industry experts must be strengthened, with a focus on enhancing financial support, ancillary industries, and government services to foster a productive, sustainable, and competitive Philippine salt industry. By harnessing collective expertise and resources, the vision of a self-sufficient salt industry and a thriving agricultural sector will soon be realized.  (Geeson Nebris)