Dong Hai has the largest salt-harvesting area. In Dong Hai, both men and women carry baskets of salt. Bamboo baskets used for the purpose weigh 40 kg when filled.
Hundreds of families in Bac Lieu entire lives are spent harvesting salt:
Salt provides daily bread to hundreds of households in Bac Lieu.
Dong Hai has the largest salt-producing area, 2,300 ha, in Bac Lieu and produces 20,000 tons a year. In recent years Bac Lieu authorities have invested more in infrastructure for salt production, and most communes now have electricity, clinics and paved roads.
During the annual salt making season from January to June, workers start their day at 4 a.m. and try to finish as soon as possible to get away from the burning hot sun.
After 12 to 18 days saltwater let out into the flats evaporates, leaving behind salt. The workers then rake the salt into mounds in the early morning or afternoon. The mounds are left alone for three to four hours to drain the remaining water and then taken by wheelbarrows to a central point.
Working on salt fields is a strenuous job. The workers first have to store water, prepare and clear the ground for the drying process and let saltwater into the field.
In Bac Lieu, salt is harvested once a year during the dry season from December to April. In 2019-2020 it produced 50,000 tons, including 4,700 tons of white salt.
The price of salt has currently almost halved to VND800 (3 US cents) a kilogram compared to the same period of last year, severely affecting workers’ incomes.
Salt farmers only have work during the first half of the year when it is sunny and dry, and have to look for other means of income during the wet season.
In Dong Hai, both men and women carry baskets of salt. Bamboo baskets used for the purpose weigh 40 kg when filled. Sometimes they slip from the grasp, causing the salt to scrape the workers’ back.
Huynh Thi Ut Muoi of Dien Hai Commune in Dong Hai said she has been working on salt fields for nearly 30 years. Now 47, she works daily and earns VND200,000-300,000 ($8.6-$12.8).
“If I do not do this job, I do not know what else I will do. It is not just me. Many other people in Dien Hai Commune stick solely to salt making. This is a traditional job for us.”
Immediately after harvesting, the workers pump saltwater into the field. This cycle continues until the end of the dry season. Around early June it rains a lot and people take a break. By early October they return to the job.
For over a century Bac Lieu Province has been closely associated with the image of salt field workers. The Bac Lieu Museum has been seeking cultural heritage recognition for the province’s salt fields from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
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