The salt farmers of India’s Rann of Kutch marshes
The Agariya people brave harsh conditions producing most of India’s salt, but live in poverty and illness as a result.
Rann of Kutch, Gujarat – Rann of Kutch is a seasonal salt marsh located in the Thar desert just 10km from the Arabian Sea in India’s Gujarat district. This is the land of the Agariya people, who have lived here for centuries, knowing only one means of livelihood – salt production.
From October to June, they work day in and day out under a fierce sun, harvesting up to 76 percent of the salt produced in India.
In the monsoon months, Rann of Kutch is submerged in sea water. As the water recedes from October, the Agariyas move in to set up square fields to grow the salt. They dig wells to pump out the briny groundwater and fill the fields where the natural evaporation process leaves behind white crystals.
In winter, the harvest season begins in the salt fields, which are now silvery white with raw salt. Braving a relentless 40 degrees during day time, which often dips to 4 degrees in the desert night, the Agariyas live for six to seven months in the shacks beside their salt flats.
They pay a high price for working in such harsh conditions. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health in Ahmedabad, the farmers suffer from skin lesions, severe eye problems owing to intense reflections off the white surfaces, and tuberculosis. A salt worker of Kutch seldom lives beyond 60 years.