Lake Katwe – The Salt “Gardens” in Uganda!

2 03 2010

On a small lake – Lake Katwe located in Western Uganda, Kasese district-located in the East African rift valley region. The water in this lake is 60% salty. The region is semi-arid and the soil doesn’t favour agricultural activities. Therefore the major economic activity here is salt mining.

Salt has been extracted from this lake since the 13th Century. It’s mined from small plot. When I saw the plots I got surprised. They are not the common plots of land like the ones you will find in central, Eastern or other parts of Western Uganda. These “plots” are ponds 10 by 12 feet or so wide and 3 to 5 feet deep. They are demarcated on the shores of the lake, owned by private individuals or families and inherited. Mining in the center of the lake is only done by licensed individuals. The association for Rock Salt Extraction issues the licenses for extraction of rock salt from the middle of the lake. This type of arrangement was made to ensure that the salt is extracted in an orderly process without causing extinction.

"Plots" on  the shores of lake Katwe

"Plots" on the shores of lake Katwe

There are three major types of salt mined from this lake:

  1. Crude salt for animal leak
  2. Edible salt (sodium chloride)
  3. Unwashed salt

Two types of activities take place in this region and the roles are specified for the women and men.

  • Salt winning (winning salt from the plots – done by the women).
  • Rock salt extraction is done by the men – 3 days a week.

The women scrap the bottom of the garden to scoop the salt. They use their feet to crash the salt to form small/fine crystals and then wash the crystals forming edible salt (washed salt/ sodium chloride).

Some of the ladies who work in the salt mines.

“In this village mention rain and people will curse you to death! We don’t like rain at all. Last night it rained that’s why people are all relaxed now and not working. Our major source of power is the sun. When it rains the gardens flood and the salt takes longer to form. The sun on the other hand makes the process of salt formation faster”, said Nicholas as he was taking us around the lake.

Health implications:

The smell of hydrogen sulphide is all over the place (smells like rotten eggs).

There are health complications in this job however. For the women when the female reproductive organs get in contact with this salty water more often, they develop uterus complications.

On average one man extructs up to 1,000kgs of salt per day and he earns Ugx3,000 (USD1.50). On the side of the path are the plots (ponds) where the salt is mined.

The men on the other hand are also affected. When the male organs get in contact with this salty water, they itch. This makes them scratch their male organs causing wounds.

The men enter the water at 8am and work up to 5pm. They work for three days a week and each man extracts more than 1000kgs per day.

“We are lucky that in this village we have never had any health complications caused by lack of iodine in the body say goiter”, said Nicholas as he was taking us around the lake.

Solutions?

“At the moment we don’t have a permanent solution to these problems. However we have tried to improvise temporally solutions to both the male and female problems in regard to the health implications”, says Nicholas a tour guide. “The

Stacks of unwashed salt

women have been advised to use pad before they enter the water. This helps to reduce on the amount of “salt water” entering their reproductive organs.”

“For the men, we are using the wrong tool (condom)”. We call it the wrong tool because it’s meant for a totally different purpose. But under the circumstances we have nothing to do about it. The men fit the condom with a rubber-band on the upper end to make it firm” explains Nicholas. This prevents salt water from getting in contact with the male organs.

Apparently a company called International Power Foundation is designing a more permanent solution for them in form of “protective suites”.

I took the liberty of talking to a few locals both men and women. When I asked about the major problems in this area they said that they still have problems accessing medical care. Malaria remains a very big threat to both the adult and children. They have a small health centre which they feel is not

plots - locally known as "ebibanja"

enough. The nearest governmental hospital (Kagando Hospital) is 14 kilometers away and in case of an emergency transport to the hospital is a big challenge. Kilembe hospital (another big hospital) is located 30 or so kilometers away.

The environment is dirty, plus the luck of pit latrines, cholera outbreaks are also very common around the lake/ mines.

The total population in this area is over 20,000 people of whom 10,000 benefit directly or work on the 4,000 plots around the lake in this salt mine.

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13 responses

3 03 2010
the salt gardens and the stone quarry | Siena Anstis

[…] face difficult conditions in Uganda’s salt gardens. Men wear condoms and women wear pads to protect their reproductive organs. Too much exposure and […]

3 03 2010
agus

Good article and thanks for your information.
Thanks

20 03 2010
ZAREMA

Thanks the author for article. The main thing do not forget about users, and continue in the same spirit.

16 10 2010
Andrew

This is very touching – Africa must fight poverty harder. Nobody seems to know what to do but can we really go on like this? I have the solutions for Africa but I require support to launch a website and publicize it? Any offers?

4 06 2013
Mag

Andrew You have solutions for Africa, but you do not have the solutions for yourself so you have to ask for help to get the solutions for Africa known publicly. Wow!. Interesting!

23 10 2013
Agaba Paul

WANDERFULL SITE OVER LAND

6 12 2013
Okello W Kumakech

How does this contribute to education in this area?

21 12 2013
23 04 2014
Bwambale Gerald

I have liked your post on internet about L. Katwe.

Dear writer, I took a tour to the place on 21st April 2014. But there is a problem of poor communication network and the area being still in a plot of wild animals which can sweep people’s lives.

Otherwise, thanks for the prior observations taken.

12 06 2014
hanaonahunt

This is some really helpful information, and it’s not all easy to find in one place… thank you.

If protective suits are now created, how accessible are they to the somewhere around 10,000 people working in the salt plots? Are they expensive, are they free? How do they know the suits work?

29 10 2014
Wasswa hassan

how is salt mined at lake katwe

8 01 2015
KIIZA JULIUS

I am so grateful for the article as a geographer. keep the spirit.

22 07 2015
biira stephanie

government should intervene and look for other means of extracting salt other than our people being affected health wise. Government can also seek for donations to help in buying gadgets

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