Songor: Ghana’s white gold
The two main sources of salt harvested in Ghana are in the Greater Accra and Central regions. Salt in the Central Region is found in smaller coastal lagoons between Nyanyano and Saltpond. In the Greater Accra Region, Panbros and Songor are major producing areas.
The latter, which is the bigger of the two, is located south-east of Sege, the capital of the Ada West District.
Songor used to be famous for its wetlands, inland fishing, and salt mining which remains the main source of livelihood for the neighbouring communities.
Salt winning in Songor began years ago whenever the lagoon dried up and salt crystals were formed naturally and harvested for domestic use and for sale.
The Songor Lagoon forms part of land acquired in the public interest and vested in Government by virtue of the State Lands (Ada Songor Lagoon –Site for Salt Industry),Instrument 1974 (E.I 30), and later amended by Instrument 1975 (E.I 57).
Part of this was leased to Vacuum Salt Products Ltd and Star Chemical Industries Ltd on January 22,1988, and August 2,1989, respectively to produce salt.
However, boundary disputes and winning rights brought about disturbances. Two of such disturbances resulted in the death of the Vacuum company’s security man and a pregnant woman, Margaret Kuwornu, whose death led to the takeover of Songor by the then Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) government.
On April 24,1992, PNDC Law 287 was promulgated to set up the Songor Salt Project to manage salt production in one of the compartments, the Ionian and the constructed ponds and pans which together occupy about three per cent of the total land area of 41,460 acres or 16,581 hectares acquired by the government for the development of salt industry and related activities.
As a compromise, the three remaining evaporators were given back to the indigenes to work. They created smaller manual salt pans known locally as “atsiakpo” from which they harvest salt.
Within its small area of operation, it is able to produce about 60,000 tonnes of salt annually.
The Vacuum acquisition was demarcated into four evaporators namely: Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Ionian. However, the Songor Salt Project currently operates from the Ionian which is the smallest. Other players in the industry are Dangme Salt Company, Sege Salt Works Ltd and individual cooperatives.
Salt production process
Salt is produced from seawater and involves a series of processes. Seawater is drawn from an intake point, channelled through a canal to the Ionian evaporator and pumped into reservoirs, ponds and pans for concentration and crystallisation.
A cubic metre (m3) of normal seawater contains mineral salts in various quantities per one kilogramme(kg).These are ferric oxide (0.003), calcium carbonate(0.0925), calcium sulphate (Plaster of Paris) (1.2622), sodium chloride (common salt) (27.3210),magnesium sulphate(2.2699),magnesium chloride(3.2655),sodium bromide(0.0848),potassium chloride (0.7390), and other salts (0.80845) making up the remaining components.
Salt technology is employed in the salt mining process to ensure the regulated flow of seawater through the various ponds and pans to the crystallisation stage where the various mineral components precipitate at their respective concentration levels measured in Baume.
Sodium chloride (common salt) is precipitated at 25.7 Baume.
Salt has a large market locally and internationally. Ghana’s total annual consumption is estimated about 320,000 tonnes. Songor alone produces 60,000 tonnes. Already, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin consume about 80 per cent of Songor salt.
However, Nigeria’s annual salt import from Brazil and other sources is said to be in the region of about 800,000 tonnes. Developing Songor would expand its salt production capacity to about 1.2 million tonnes which would enable it to supply Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region.
The silting of the Songor intake point, seasonal rainfall and the high cost of road transport are some of the challenges.
These challenges can be addressed by the construction of a dyke to provide a permanent intake channel and a jetty to facilitate sea transportation of salt.
The development of Songor will create a bigger capacity for salt production, restore the lagoon for inland fishing and revive the wetlands which are important habitats for migrant birds to promote domestic tourism.
The development of Songor will also create employment, engender development and improve the living conditions of the people.
The Writer is a member of staff of the Information Services Department.