Mauritanian Etoile Bay Sea Salt: Between Ocean and Desert

With 754 kilometers of coastline, Mauritania is one of the richest fishing areas in the world, thanks to a very biodiverse coastal ecosystem. Nonetheless, industrial and intensive fishing, mainly for export purposes, continue to threaten local small-scale fishing. Protecting and promoting local products, while raising awareness among the population on informed consumption choices, represent a great challenge for the country’s economy, traditional food culture and skills. For this reason, Slow Food, local NGO Mauritanie 2000 and the French salt producer’s association, Univers-Sel, have joined fishers and small-scale producers to promote the production of mullet bottarga (dried mullet roe) and produce high quality salt.

Processing fishery products represents an important part of the Mauritanian industry and salt is a fundamental ingredient for drying and fermentation processes. Almost all the salt used is imported or comes from insanitary salt mines and flats, while Mauritanian coasts provide the ideal environment for high quality salt production.

To this end, in February 2014 the three project partners launched Sa.Sol.No for solar sea salt production in Nouadhibou, to develop the artisan production of high quality sea salt. The salt pan is 2 hectares wide and is located in the Baie de L’Etoile (Star Bay), a marine protected area subject to sand storms, known as baglalia in Hassanyya language, that prevent salt production between February and June.

After a year of production trials involving four salt producers, who are part of the group of 45 female producers currently working on the site, a meeting was held in Nouadhibou to discuss the importance of product quality and producer organization. By presenting a manual of good practices covering the main processes of salt production, and the narrative label telling the salt’s identity, producers were able to fully appreciate the uniqueness of their product. “Knowing the salt and caring about how it is packaged, while promoting the production methods through the narrative label, is added value for the final product”, said one producer. The entire group of producers took part in the event and the lively discussions, which took place in three languages of the main ethnic groups -Hassanyya, Soninké and Pulaar- demonstrated the producer’s strong interests. The challenge: facing climatic, economic and logistic difficulties to help increase the presence of high quality sea salt on the local market.

“This is an innovative project,” said Mariem Daoud, responsible for the Mauritanie 2000 project in Nouadhibou, “there is a great demand for salt in Mauritania, particularly for dry curing fish, bread making and household consumption, but nobody makes a high quality product. This is exactly what differentiates us from low quality products on the market.”

Aminata, a young producer, recounted her experience: “I have been producing salt for my own livelihood in front of my house, in the center of village, since I was 10. I hope I will be able to earn a little more by selling this high quality salt and for this reason I am ready to take on all necessary efforts, even though the salt pans are further away from the village. I would never have had the idea of joining forces with producers, by myself. Having a set price between us will help to have more of an impact among consumers. We must help each other instead of being competitors!”

 

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