Slow Fish in Action
Salt Workers Give Life to the Salt Pans of Star Bay
After two years of the Saliculture Solaire project in Nouadhibou, and thanks to the constant effort of the producers, the salt harvests are both promising and encouraging. Photographer Paola Viesi travelled to the bay to meet the Mauritanian salt workers and immortalize the fruits of their labor.
The year 2015 started off immediately with a natural phenomenon that slowed the activities in Star Bay; then in August a huge tidal flow damaged the dam that protects the salt pans, which halted production until it could be completely repaired and the basins could be restored. The involvement of the producers was fundamental in getting the activity back on its feet—with technical help from the salt workers of Guérande, who came to help just for the occasion—and this represented a first real challenge for the community: taking care of the common good and coming together to face adversities. Once the breaches were repaired, the producers slowly settled into the salt pans, and today 33 producers regularly work there and manage their activities in complete autonomy.
The salt pans are found 10 kilometers outside of the Nouadhibou, and as such transportation was also a problem that the workers had to deal with as a group, to make sure their activities were sustainable; they now travel two or three days per week either by taxi or by hitchhiking. “For the return trip, the police help us find vehicles that bring us back to town (says Oumoulkheire Mint Boulkheire)”, as the work site is right next to a police headquarters. Isselmou comes to the salt pans with a cart. He leaves very early in the morning, just after his sunrise prayers. It takes about an hour to get to the salt pans, but this allows him to carry his salt back to town a little at a time and to measure how much he has produced. The other producers found a transporter who drives to the pans in an old Range Rover to take all of their salt back to the city.
The absorption of various salt-producing techniques, along with a strong sense of perseverance, has allowed the producers to harvest up to 300 kilos of salt per week for the most diligent workers. Since starting out last October 20, Fatou has produced about 220 sacks of roughly 30 kilos of salt each. In the beginning, with her four tarps she was able to produce seven sacks per harvest, every three or four days if the weather was good. Later she was able to double her production area by investing in more tarps, thus doubling her harvest as well. However, in order to avoid a plunge in the price of salt from Star Bay, the producers have all agreed not to sell their stocks yet and they are still looking for a common strategy to promote their high-quality product at a fair price. Since salt is a non-perishable product, they all know that some day they will be able to benefit from their labor.
As Assa Masiré explains, “Even though I haven’t earned anything yet, I have a good stockpile that I will be able to sell when the time is right.” Collective efforts for better yields and homogenous quality of the product have yet to be obtained, but the group is slowly coming together and certain responsibilities are taking shape among the members of this new coop. When the young producer Aminata gave birth to her little girl in July 2015, her husband picked up the reins and now heads out to the salt pans every three days. Cooperation is getting stronger in Star Bay, and it’s a reflection of this activity’s importance for the community.
Photo © Paola Viesi - Have a look at the full photogallery!