By VENUS MAY H. SARMIENTO
DASOL - Travelling from the big city in Manila going up north, one would undoubtedly pass through the northern gate of Region I - the province of Pangasinan.
The thickly populated province of Pangasinan, with 2.65 million residents, derived its name from salt or ‘asin’ in the vernacular.
Pangasinan or PanagASINan literally means ‘where salt is made’ owing to the rich and fine salt beds or ‘banigan’ which were the source of livelihood for the province’s coastal towns sans fishing.
Setting off from Dagupan City, a two-hour drive will lead one to the ‘Home of Quality Salt’ —- the western town of Dasol.
Once in the vicinity, vast stretches of salt beds will greet every visitor and the welcome sign of quality salt will surely catch a traveller’s attention.
Municipal Agriculturist Vilma Nifas explains why Dasol prides itself with good quality salt.
This salt town boasts of 114 hectares of mangrove rehabilitation area which will soon be declared as a marine protected area.
“Mangroves, as we all know is a natural filter. Water is filtered even before it reaches the rivers and salt beds of Dasol,kaya malinis and tubig,” Nifas said.
To protect the municipal waters, Dasol remains firm in its staunch stand against mining and the proliferation of fish cages and fish pens, making sure that no impurities enter the waters.
“Protecting the waters and the environment means protecting the salt industry and the livelihood of Dasolinians,” she added.
Agricultural Technologist Frieda Briz explained that salt beds, measuring 18 x 22 feet are made of tiles that resemble bricks. Small ponds and water depositors are also built around them.
Salt farmers usually start their chore in October. Each brick is carefully laid out one by one. One farmer can tend to at least 25 salt beds. Each ‘banigan’ is patiently watered to a certain depth at least every week, until watering becomes three times a week, until it is time for a daily checking.
By mid-February, salt farmers start to do the ‘kayod’ or raking of the salt produce. Peak season, where salt is at its best quality, is usually in March or April. The longer the dry spell, the more salt is produced.
Briz said salt generally yield good money if harvest is good. Dasol produces around 300, 000 cavans (or 18-million kilograms) of salt from its 10,000 salt beds during peak season. With one cavan pegged at P100, production translates to some P30 million in gross income.
But more than the monetary claim, salt making industry is more of a family enterprise. Nine of its 18 barangays are active in the salt business.
While one father farmer can tend to at least 25 salt beds, he cannot do it alone, his wife and elder children help in the industry during peak season. He even hires a laborer to help in the chore. The families, altogether, tend to their banigans.
A pond maker, water depositor maker and brick layer is also needed, thus more employment are elicited. During harvest, hundreds of baskets or ‘kaing’ are needed giving livelihood to basket weavers.
Bris said a big farm owner has come to their place to buy all the salt beds and make the residents as ‘laborers’. The local government and the residents did not heed this proposal as the industry is a livelihood source loved by the Dasolinians and passed on from generation to generation.
“As laborers, salary is fixed. But if they tend to their beds and put their hearts into it, they produce more, they share more. And by being industrious and patient, there will be more chance uplifting their lives,” Briz said.
With the innate love for the industry, the public can be sure that the crystal white, good quality salt of Pangasinan will continue to reach the dining tables of every home. (VHS/PIA-1, Pangasinan)