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Climate Change: This Family Carrying the 500 Year Old Salt Farming Legacy is Facing Substantial Troubles

The sting of climate change is often viewed as an issue for future generations and as unimportant as a few degrees of temperature change. But for a region of farmers in the Indian state of Gujarat, climate change's punch is striking now.

Ayushi Raina
This Family Carrying the 500 Year Old Salt Farming Legacy
This Family Carrying the 500 Year Old Salt Farming Legacy

Climate change is frequently considered as a challenge for future generations, as insignificant as a few degrees of temperature change. The impact of climate change is already being seen in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Farmers harvest salt, which is critical to the world's salt supply. India produces one-third of the world's salt, with Gujarat accounting for over 75% of that total. Gujarat is located in the northwest corner of the country, along the Arabian Sea, around 270 miles north of Mumbai. The salt farmers toil in the desert's most remote areas.

The farming season generally lasts from October to March, but an onslaught of weather variations caused by climate change has not only altered that timeline, but also impacted the product.

Roshni Thakor, 20, dropped out of school to help her family with their annual salt harvest.

Roshni, 20, told that the scorching temperatures have made the normally gruelling work nearly impossible.  Her life, like her ancestors, is devoted to the annual harvests, since she dropped out of school to pursue the occupation.

"Our eyes become moist when we comb the salt pans," she stated. It's quite hot. We feel dizzy and sometimes fall sick."

The significance of the salt pans cannot be overstated. The Thakor family's four salt pans are the critical tools for generating enough revenue to survive another year.

However, when severe monsoon rains break the pans and necessitate repair, which can take up to two months, that revenue suffers yet another hit.

Roshni's father, Raju Thakor, lost two crucial salt pans early in the harvest season owing to heavy monsoon rains.

"We come in October to begin construction. The monsoon rains destroy the pans, so it takes almost two months to fix and repair them," Roshni's father, Raju Thakor, stated.

The increasing storminess in the area, according to Raju, has also hampered their gathering, as the farming process is time-consuming.

"Salt production requires dry weather — if it rains unexpectedly, all our effort goes down the drain," he said, highlighting the Sisyphean nature of the work when the weather does not cooperate. "The salt dissolves, and we have to start from scratch."

Thakor described the "Agariyas," or salt farmers, process as slow and gradual, necessitating the use of pans to collect the evaporated salt crystals at first and later walking over the basins with bare feet to prevent it from leaking back into the earth.

"We then chop them up after about a month. Then, eventually, salt crystals develop. But first, we scrape them away using wooden rakes. The whole process is gradual and the salt is made bit by bit," Thakor said. "The crystals that are formed after five months are perfect in size, a cut above the rest."

The slow and gradual process of salt farming produces crystals that are perfect in size, Thakor said.

Rising temperatures and an increase in natural disasters, according to Dhvanit Pandya, a volunteer who runs a local salt farmer advocacy group, have altered the quality of the farmer's product.

"And as a result of this — the price for salt fixed by traders — that is slashed by half," Pandya said.

Daytime temperatures in the Thar Desert region have been slowly rising for years, according to Pandya, affecting the salt produced by the tens of thousands of Agariyas that depend on constant conditions.

"So, in the last ten years, the maximum temperature here has been 48 to 50 degrees Celsius (118 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit)," he said. "However, in the summer, the temperature at noon is between 53 to 54 degrees Celsius (127 to 129 degrees Fahrenheit). As a result, temperatures are rising here by the day. And it's all related to climate change in some manner."

Dhvanit Pandya is the founder of a volunteer salt farmer advocacy group and has witnessed firsthand how climate change has impacted the farming community.

According to Raju, the optimal heat for salt crystal production is 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit).

Experts have studied the impact of deforestation and air pollution on storm system strength for many years. Climate change's impact on monsoon season intensity in India prompted a recent government research predicting that future rain patterns will be more intense and unpredictable.

Farmers in the region, such as the Thokars and Tejal Makwana told that they do not want to abandon their trade, but it has gotten undeniably more difficult as the weather has changed.

Makwana, who used to save nearly $700 from each farming season, would make enough from the one season of farming to provide for her family for the rest of the year.

"But now we can barely make ends meet," she said.

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