In the foothills of the Rif Mountains in northeastern Morocco, women in the small village of Zerradoun are continuing the tradition of salt harvesting from the 200-year old saltpans found here, using almost unchanged techniques. In recent years they established a Slow Food Presidium to protect their unique product into the future and last month they had the chance to work with acclaimed French salters to review their methods and sustainability.
The French producers traveled from the Guerande peninsula in the north of the country, where a 2,000 year-old tradition in salt harvesting was threatened a few decades back by competition from rock and Mediterranean salt. But the community persevered and today a thriving industry exists. Traditions passed down through the centuries include the use of sea tides, a three-basins system for collecting water, small-sized businesses and the absence of mechanization or chemicals.
With this success, the French producers decided to form the Univers-Sel associaton to help with artisan salt production in a handful of African countries. The association's work is based on a direct exchange of knowledge, seeking to adapt ancient but simple techniques to the fragile African ecosystems.
The Guerande salters have also formed a Terra Madre food community, and last month two French producers visited the Moroccan Presidium to assist them evaluate their production techniques, with a focus on improving quality but maintaining and reintroducing traditional techniques where beneficial. For example, today the salt water is evaporated in basins covered with plastic sheets - ideal to guarantee hygiene and simplify the work but less sustainable than local materials used previously.
Some of the Moroccan women were able to experience the French saltpans first-hand last year, when they visited the region following the Terra Madre world meeting in October. Here they witnessed productions similar to their own: small saltpans worked by individuals who make up the Les Salines de GuÈrande cooperative, which manages the sale price of their organic, unrefined sea salt.
The Presidium producers understand that they have a quality product with good taste characteristics, but say the competition from larger more renowned saltpans inhibits their opportunities to sell in significant quantities, and on markets across the whole country. To help the producers increase their distribution and name, the Guerande community has committed to assisting the Moroccan women - working towards improved salt production through in-depth technical analyses as a common path in both France and Morocco.
Click here for more information on the Zerradoun Salt Presidium
Click here for more information on Les Salines de Guèrande
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