Traditional salt farming in Goa, India has been practised for the past 1,500 years by a few communities. Goa’s riverine estuaries, easy access to sea water and favourable climatic conditions makes salt production attractive during summer. Salt produced through this natural evaporation process also played an important role in the economy of Goa even during the Portuguese rule as salt was the chief export commodity. In the past there were 36 villages involved in salt production, which is now reduced to 9. Low income, lack of skilled labour, competition from industrially produced salt, losses incurred on the yearly damage of embankments are the major reasons responsible for the reduction in the number of salt pans.
Salt pans (Mithagar or Mithache agor) form a part of the reclaimed waterlogged khazan lands, which are also utilised for aquaculture, pisciculture and agriculture. Salt pans in Goa experience three phases namely, the ceased phase during monsoon period of June to October, preparatory phase from December to January, and salt harvesting phase, from February to June. After the monsoons, the salt pans are prepared manually for salt production. During high tide, an influx of sea water occurs, which enters the reservoir pans through sluice gates. The sea water after 1–2 days on attaining a salinity of approximately 5ºBé, is released into the evaporator pans and kept till it attains a salinity of 23 - 25ºBé. The brine is then released to crystallizer pans, where the salt crystallises out 25 - 27ºBé and is then harvested.
Salt pans form a unique ecosystem where succession of different organisms with varying environmental conditions occurs. Organisms ranging from bacteria, archaea to fungi, algae, etc., are known to colonise salt pans and may influence the quality of salt produced.
The aim of this review is to describe salt farming in Goa’s history, importance of salt production as a community activity, traditional method of salt production and the biota associated with salt pans.