DOST EYES SALT INDUSTRY ENHANCEMENT IN OCCIDENTAL MINDORO USING NEW TECHNOLOGY
By: Athena Colline L. Verdey, DOST-MIMAROPA Regional Office
       Dr. Ma. Josefina P. Abilay, DOST-MIMAROPA Regional Office

An existing salt farm in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro managed by JALD Industries Corporation. JALD Industries is one of the largest salt producer in the province.

      Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato de la Peña made a two-day trip to Occidental Mindoro on April 6-7, 2017, taking the time to meet local government officials and salt farmers in the municipality of San Jose to express his utmost support to the province’s goal of moving towards the development and sustainability of their salt industry.

    According to a report published by Pacific Farms, Inc about salt production in the Philippines, the salt-making industry was once a vibrant industry in the country.  In 1990, provinces like Bulacan, Pangasinan, Occidental Mindoro, and Cavite could supply almost 85% of the country’s annual salt requirement. However, the local salt industry has since been crippled by the country’s vulnerability to climate change. Large producers from Las Pinas, Cavite, and Bulacan were forced to close down their salt farms, or convert their areas into other profitable avenues such as fishponds, residential, or commercial properties. Dwindling local salt production naturally gave rise to more salt importation. Now, only 20% of the country’s salt is locally produced, while the remaining 80% is imported from other big salt-producing countries like Australia and China.

   Occidental Mindoro is surrounded by saltwater making it one of the biggest salt-producing provinces in the country. At the height of its production in 1990, it boasted of producing and supplying about 60,000MT of the 338,000MT or 18% of the country’s annual salt requirement. Today, while Occidental Mindoro still supplies salt in neighboring provinces in Southern Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, only 12% national salt requirement or almost 75, 000 MT of 590,000 MT comes from the province.

   While the potential of the salt industry is huge because of its universal need, what ultimately doomed it is the seasonal pattern change due to climate change and salt producers’ reliance on age-old production methods. These two factors combined badly affects salt farms that lead to the continuous decline of the industry and the country’s dependence on more imports in order to keep up with local demands.

   To save the industry, the local government of Occidental Mindoro calls for government agencies to help out and invest in research activities that will boost the country’s salt industry and increase income not only of salt farm owners but also salt farm workers in the province. As Congresswoman Josephine Y. Ramirez-Sato of the Lone District of Occidental Mindoro puts it “Kailangan lang namin ng suporta in terms of research and product development and we can be very competitive”.

DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña inspects the salt harvested in JALD Industries Corporation’s salt farm.

  The Department of Science and Technology-MIMAROPA (DOST-MIMAROPA) has immediately responded to the province’s call and stepped up efforts to develop its salt industry by helping them adopt a new technology that will allow year-round production of salt even under erratic weather patterns.

   The introduction of the new technology will be preceded by research and development (R&D) activities, spearheaded by DOST- Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST- ITDI) to assess the technology’s potential for an improved harvest in salt farms in Occidental Mindoro.  The R&D activities will include a gathering of scientific baseline data to identify significant information on salt production such as new processes to be involved, quality of salt to be produced, and the amount of salt that will be harvested. According to Dr. Annabelle Briones, the Deputy Director of DOST- ITDI, R&D will help in achieving the self-sustainability of the salt industry in Occidental Mindoro and eventually in the Philippines. For the main purpose why it is conducted she simply said, “Para mas mapalaki pa yung industriya”. The new technology comes with an improved saltern design and layout which will enhance the production process and the quality of the salt produced.

The new technology lowers the cost of production while developing a salt crystallization process that can withstand rainy season. Occidental Mindoro will be able to harvest more salt by ensuring production year-round or even during the off-season, as well as develop by-products from it such as gypsum and bitterns, which is seen to generate more income for both salt farmers and salt producers in the province.

View of a salt farm producing salt using the conventional method or harvesting salt in crystallizers with tiles.

   The improved salt production method will lead to a 95-99% purity in the salt produced from the 80-92% before. This will allow the province’s salt industry to expand their market from fisheries, fertilizer makers, and patis and bagoong producers only to food, pharmaceutical, and other industries. Aside from R&D support, Dr. Briones also mentioned another project that will focus on the value- adding of salt or new salt product development for the province. The technology aims to make Philippines salt production be at par with other salt-producing countries.

   Secretary de la Pena also talked about the economic future of the province and how the salt industry will play a crucial role. He also reiterated the agency’s commitment to continue supporting programs and projects for salt industry rehabilitation, focusing on salt production, through the provision of technological assistance and other S&T-related services. “Nakita natin na di talaga tayo uubra ng kulang sa asin, actually ang mapapangako lang namin dito ay pagtulong na may kinalaman sa pagimprove ng production processes using technology and serbisyo na may kinalaman ang teknolohiya” He emphasized that aside from R&D, DOST could also help in making Occidental Mindoro’s salt industry more vibrant and competitive by providing additional salt production technologies through its Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP).

  The revolutionization of the salt industry will begin with the testing of the prototype of the improved salt production technology in an existing salt farm in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro owned by JALD Industries Corporation. JALD Industries Corp, owned by Arnold Duque, is one of the major salt producers in Occidental Mindoro and an assisted enterprise of DOST-MIMAROPA under SETUP. The first phase of the project is set to begin this 2017. The result from the research and development activities will be used as a guide for the Phase 2 of the project which is the verification trial in 2018.

DOST Secretary Fortunato de La Peña with DOST-MIMAROPA Regional Director Dr. Ma Josefina P. Abilay, ITDI Director Dr. Ma Patricia V. Azanza, ITDI Deputy Director Dr. Arlene Briones, PCAARRD Deputy Director Dr Edwin Villar, S&T Committee Secretary Mr. Donald Caballero, DLLO Liason Officer Ms. Lita Suerte-Felipe, PSTD- Occidental Mindoro Ethelwilda Coronacion, and representatives from JALD Industries Corporation during a visit in a salt farm in San Jose Occidental Mindoro on April 6, 2017

    During his visit, the Secretary was joined by other DOST officials including Dr. Maria Patricia Azanza and, director of the Industrial Technology Development Institute; Dr. Edwin Villar, deputy director of Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD); Ms. Lita Suerte-Felipe of the Department of Legislative Liaison Office (DLLO); and Mr. Donald Amado Caballero of the Science and Technology Committee, House of Representatives.

(Source: Pacific Farms, Inc. Salt Production Process (Powerpoint slides). Retrieved from http://www.mapabcdf.com.ph/documents/presentations/Agribusiness/Agricultural%20Activities%20and%20Services/06%20Philippine%20Salt%20Industry.pdf)