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Business News of Monday, 26 November 2012

Source: B&FT

Trouble brews over Songor salt

Communities that eke out a living through salt-winning along the Songor Lagoon in Ada are livid over alleged attempts by government to relocate them and make way for major exploitation of the under-mined resource.

Ghana is said to have an annual potential of 2.2 million tonnes of salt, but current annual output is pegged at 250,000 metric tonnes (mt), representing only about a tenth of the potential. The Songhor Lagoon area, in the Greater Accra Region has been identified as the most productive, with a production potential of 1.44million metric tonnes per annum.

A chunk of the 250,000 metric tonnes is produced by indigenes of the about-45 communities dotted along the Songor Lagoon, who use their bare hands to scoop out salt crystals from crystallising ponds at the brink of the lagoon.

The people admit that their methods are inefficient, but they do not want to be completely taken off the resource -- which they say has been handed down from their forefathers.

“We are not against investors or investment, but the people whose livelihood depends on the resource must also be considered. So we are saying that government should help in organising the people into cooperatives, have them registered as small-scale miners, give them the inputs and standards, and supervise their activities so that they can also get some income,” said Albert Akpetorghor, Secretary to the Ada Songor Cooperative Salt Mining Society.

Balancing investment in the country’s salt industry against preserving the livelihoods of communities has inconvenienced governments over the years. In 1987, a scuffle between one of the communities along the Songor Lagoon and Vacuum Salt Company, a private investment, led to security officers shooting and killing a pregnant woman.

To settle the matter, the Rawlings Regime passed PNDC Law 287, which took over the company and put in place an Interim Management Committee.

President Rawlings brought in Cubans to advise -- which led to what has come to be known as the ‘Cuban Master-Plan’. Key among the recommendations of this plan is the establishment of a Joint Venture company, with active involvement of the communities.

“It is necessary to establish a control for the interrelationship in the Lagoon usage by establishing a Joint Venture company... The cooperatives and other interested Parties to undertake the infrastructural construction and brine-flow management. This is being suggested because none of the interested parties alone can assume management of so complex a matter,” the master-plan states in part.

Not much has happened since the plan was developed in 1991. In 2005, government came in with another plan, which is called a “Land Use Plan”; and according to members of the communities, this plan seeks to kick them out of their settlements and away from their sole means of livelihood.

Albert Akpetorghor that said on June 8, 2011, Mike Hammah, Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, sent a delegation to the area with a simple message that they would be relocated.

“At the moment, the big-time investors want the land-use plan implemented so that the indigenes who have been staying around the resource for over 600 years will be kicked out,” he said.

At a community consultative meeting held in Lolonya, a surburb of Ada, last week, anxious members of the communities of Kposem, Kportitsekope, Okorhuesisi, Wokumagber, Azizakpornya, Goi and Lolonya said they favour the joint venture recommendation of the Cuban Master-Plan over the Land-Use Plan.

They appealed to government to forget about relocating them and rather help them to improve on their salt-winning activities.

“We have over 90,000 people around the Songor lagoon. What will be their security if you relocate them?” Albert Akpetorghor asked.

According to the Cuban Master-Plan, the Ada Songor Lagoon and its surrounding areas represent the biggest prospective salt-producing body in Ghana as it is the most favourable and unique location to assure outstanding development of the salt industry in the country.

“The area of influence for Ghanaian salt exports should be those importing countries (non-producers) in West Africa and eventually some of Equatorial and sub-Saharan Africa. These countries are mainly La Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and occasionally Cameroon, Niger, and Liberia,” the plan suggests.

Indeed, Nigeria is said to import tonnes of salt from Brazil while its closer neighbour -- Ghana -- has the resource in abundance but unexploited. Nigeria’s Director-General of Geological Survey Agency (NGSA), Prof. Siyan Malomo, is reported to have disclosed in 2011 that the country spends US$2.3billion to import salt every year.

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