By Dennis Agbo
Ebonyi State is called â€œThe Salt of the Nationâ€ for the simple reason that the entire stretch of the state harbours a rich deposit of natural salt under the earth.
A recent visitor to the state who lodged in one the hotels in Abakaliki was amazed when he found out that water from his shower tested salty. This had prompted him into saying that Nigeria takes its mineral resources for granted, while wondering why the country still imports salt. And it was on the basis of this he had advised thatÂ both the state and Federal governments should do everything possible to make Ebonyi State the industrial salt base of Africa.
The visitor was, however, unaware that the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, UNIDO, had brokered a partnership deal with the Ebonyi State government on how the salt potentials of the state could be harvested under a mechanized process for commercial purpose instead of the present arrangement where it is harvested byÂ women for solely family uses.
The good news is that this partnership agreement recently engendered a lot of excitement amongÂ Ebonyi women as they trooped en mass to three different venues in Ezza-South and Ohaozara local government areas where three different salt processing plants were commissioned by Governor Martin Elechi in company of the Japanese Ambassador in Nigeria.
The Japanese government had assisted in the UNIDO/Ebonyi State government partnership deal in setting up the plants where the salt would now be harvested through the womenâ€™s cooperative societies who have been trained on how to manage the salt plants.
An engineer with the state Public Utilities Ministry and Desk Officer of UNIDO, Engr. Ojeogu Chukwuma said that the processing of the salt will be done, for now, with local fire wood as its source of energy for the heating of the salt. Engr. Chukwuma further explains the process of the salt mechanization:
â€œFor now the salt is fetched manually by the women from the salt lake and poured into an overhead tank from where a valve will be opened, allowing it to flow into the cooling system; from there it will get to the basin on top of the oven where it will be heated up and the salt will be sieved and the water content evaporated.
What will remain is molten salt which is collected from a lower basin and the molten salt will be carried out by the women and poured into a dryer where it will be monitored up to a point of saturation. When the salt is well dried it will be taken out to the iodization machineâ€.
Engr. Chukwuma said the plants for now are designed with oven as its energy source probably because of lack of electricity in the remote villages where they are located or because of instability in Nigeriaâ€™s electric power supply. He said installation of iodization machine is the second part of the project which has not been carried out yet, advising that un-iodized salt should not be consumed.
Governor Elechi at the commissioning ceremony in Ikwuator-Idembia in Ezza South Local Government Area called on the people to make maximum use of the plant to process salt mechanically for the sustenance of the state internally generated revenue. Governor Elechi recounted the suffering the people of the state, especially the rural women, passed through in the cause of processing the salt locally which, according to him, was done with hard labour while its result was very low and the salt of low quality.
He said that with the provision of the mechanized salt processing plant, the salt would be produced in a large quantity, adding the salt will at the same time be of better quality devoid of impurities. Chairman of Ezza South local government, Chief Marcellinus Nwokporo said that the history of salt processing in that community dates back to time immemorial when women in the area earn their living through salt.
Nwokporo also stated that the salt processing is quite difficult andtime consuming and also of low quality as the women in the area engage on local method of the processing, pointing out that with the provision of the mechanized plant, it will increase the quality of the salt as well create job opportunities for the community.
The plants obviously deserve further constructions like the iodization machine installation and roof over the salt plants. The Ezza South Chairman, Mr. Nwokporo has however agreed that whenever the women come up with needed list of items, the council will oblige to the demand,promising that â€œwhen the women settle with the processing of the salt technically as assisted by UNIDO, then the local government will then come in to assist them in whatever way they may want assistance so that there will be more structures here and then the other plant for
the iodization of the salt for human consumption.â€