Andhra salt makers want recognition as farmers

"Why shouldn't salt-making be classed as agriculture?' asks R Potharaju. "Both require land, water and sunshine, and are subject to vagaries of nature,' he reasons. Potharaju is convenor of the Prakasam District Salt Farmers Forum.

The forum believes that an official categorisation as agriculture would take care of the many perils of salt-making. It will bring the 6,000-odd salt-maker families in Andhra Pradesh's Prakasam district under the ambit of agricultural insurance, give them access to institutional credit and guarantee a minimum support price to their produce.

Many of the problems of salt-making came to light after the December 2004 tsunami. After the calamity, workers of the ngo Social Activities for Rural Development Society (sards) found that relief agencies were working largely among fishing and farming communities; the salt-makers remained a neglected lot.Suneel Kumar Ravi, the executive secretary of sards says, "The tsunami struck when it was off-season for salt- makers, but they suffered tremendous losses, nevertheless. Stored salt was washed away and there was damage to infrastructural facilities like bunds, canals, drying pans, storage platforms and access roads. Work in the pans was held up for almost an entire season as the farmers struggled to repair these structures without any aid.'

Ravi says that the salt-makers' demands have not been voiced in a concerted manner because the group has rarely been organised politically. Salt-making is practised in sparse pockets along the Andhra coast by an amorphous group comprising dalits, adivasis and other communities. "There has been little communication among the different communities,' Ravi says. Matters are, however, changing after the formation of the Prakasam District Salt Farmers Forum in 2005
The vexed question The forum believes that the salt-makers' problems start with the very basic requirement of their calling