Tradition of excellence continues
In Portugal, the traditional salt production has been one of the main economic activities of the country and Castro Marim (East Algarve) is still nowadays the most representative area, supporting the largest community of traditional salt artisans in Portugal.
The salt pans represent 28% of the 2,000 hectares, mostly wetlands and salt marshes, that integrate the Natural Reserve of Castro Marim. The geometric ponds for salt evaporation were introduced in Castro Marim by the Romans and this activity was closely associated with the industry of fish conservation that was well established in the Algarve.
Revaluing the identity of salt pans and its associated activity, restoring and promoting the biological, economic and cultural potentials of the coastal wetlands. Specific objectives include the recognition of the importance of the salt pans for nature conservation, the restoration of the salt pans, organisation and structuring of the profession, bringing back value to the traditional salt produced in the coast.
Valuing the traditional method and the artisans
Several actions of awareness and mobilisation among regional stakeholders in the areas are being undertaken, including workshops and promotional European fairs about traditional salt and the promotion and support of associative structures for the producers.
At the European level, the European Federation of Traditional Salt is being set up. These associative structures can lead to changes in the legal status of traditional salt at the National and European levels, allowing specific supporting mechanisms of the activity or a certification status of the product.
The most successful action was the change in the European and Portuguese legislation regarding traditional salt as a product that, though it is subject to strict quality control, its existence and market are now legal. This achievement was due to an intensive pressure from different European countries through their national federations and governments.
Encourage the certification of traditional salt to combat competition with industrial product. The salt and fleur du sal produced in Castro Marim are periodically controlled by the french institute Nature et Progrès and Sativa.
The establishment of TradiSal – an association encompassing the traditional salt producers from Eastern Algarve which was officially established in 1999. TradiSal, with a business structure and financial means, supports their associated producers in finding ways in the national and international markets and organises a collective marketing of salt and fleur du sal. It has also been working on the certification and promotion of traditional salt, and leading actions aimed at guaranteeing the pureness of the product.
The participation of Castro Marim in European initiatives allowed the cooperation and exchange of experiences with other traditional salt producing sites providing mutual support and steering of the actions. Though partnerships of producers have a clear added value, this is limited by the fact that the different producers are direct competitors.
Promotion of Biodiversity
The Project SAL, included funding for restoration of abandoned salt pans in many of the sites involved, including Castro Marim. Furthermore it helped set up an integrated and sustainable management, compatible with the protection status associated with the areas (e.g. Natura 2000,Wetlands of International Importance – Ramsar convention), which included the definition of a methodology applied to key species (mainly birds), the selection of indicator species and its monitoring, and a programme of active management of the salt pans and the water levels.
Cultural heritage and diversification of activities
Other initiatives of the Project SAL was the establishment of a route of Traditional Salt from the Atlantic, the promotion of tourism in the areas through the establishment of a common identity and the support in the establishment of museums and interpretation centres about the traditional production of salt. The study of new uses and products obtained from the salt pans in Castro Marim (such as special algae, other halophytic plants and clay), that are compatible with the traditional production of salt and the objectives of nature conservation has been promoted through projects and partnerships with research entities. Courses were set up, involving approximately 15 students, aimed at identifying, collecting, and transforming these products but also analysing potential markets for their commercialization.
Source: EU OURCOAST-Project