Bac Lieu is one of the country’s biggest salt producers, with production primarily salt harvest taking place in Dong Hai and Hoa Binh districts. Working on them is a strenuous and demanding job.
Salt harvest begins at dawn in the Mekong Delta province of Bac Lieu:
Salt farmers in Dong Hai District in the Mekong Delta province of Bac Lieu start their day at dawn as summer arrives and the harvest begins.
Seen from above, rectangular salt fields line up like building blocks in Long Dien Commune in the coastal province. The place is commonly known as the Dong Hai salt field. Photographer Tran Minh Luong of Can Tho City recently visited the salt flats and captured these aerial and close-up shots.
A bird’s-eye view of the salt fields near the coast.
Working on them is a strenuous and demanding job. The workers first have to store water, prepare and clear the ground for the drying process. Then saltwater is let into the fields.
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Bac Lieu is one of the country’s biggest salt producers, with production primarily taking place in Dong Hai and Hoa Binh districts.
There are two methods to make salt, the traditional process in which saltwater is laid on dry land for crystallizing into black salt under the sun, and the modern process that requires a mat and yields white salt after evaporation. The latter fetches a higher price in the market.
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, on 1,670 hectares of flats.
Tran Van Nghia of An Dien Village, Long Dien Commune, a salt worker with over 35 years’ experience, said: “The harvest is better this year. Since the weather is hotter, and thus favorable, the production process is faster and it is more profitable.”
After 12 to 18 days saltwater let out into the flats evaporates and leaves behind salt. The workers then rake 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 brought by wheelbarrows to a central point.
Salt field workers use wheelbarrows to transport salt.
Bamboo baskets are also used for carrying the salt. They weigh 40 kg and sometimes slip from the grasp, causing the salt to scrape the workers’ back.
“Salt workers always hope for hot and sunny days so that these arduous tasks of raking and carrying the salt are at least profitable,” Linh, a man carrying a salt basket on the back, said.
These mounds of salt are the collective, back-breaking effort of the workers. According to them, black salt is sold to visiting traders at VND800-900 (3-4 cents) per kilogram and white salt for VND1,200-1,400.
Sunrise at the Dong Hai salt fields.
In 2013 the National Intellectual Property Office granted geographical indication protection for Bac Lieu salt. The salt is used across Vietnam and showcased at many international trade fairs.
A small hut (middle) serves as a shelter for the workers during the harvest.
For over a century, Bac Lieu has been closely associated with the image of salt field workers. The Bac Lieu Museum has sought cultural heritage recognition for the province’s salt fields from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.