Lake Katwe is a salty lake located in Kasese in the south western part of Uganda and is bordered by Queen Elizabeth national park. This is one of the most recognized natural features in Uganda that gets the travelers on a Uganda Safaris tour Excited to see the salt production. Salt pans are manmade features created along Lake Katwe where salt is mined. This lake is also the largest of the 8 lakes which contain salt in the Katwe- Kikorongo volcanic field located in western Uganda.
Lake Katwe is known for its salt deposit throughout the East African region and salt has been mined from this saline lake for decades using traditional methods. Salt miners create salt pans around the lake to increase evaporation so that salt can become concentrated. The Intense heat leads to evaporation which makes the water salty especially during the dry seasons.
Forms of salt mined in Lake Katwe include edible salt, crude salt which is used by animals and unwashed salt. This salt is extracted by the local community who makes up a high number of salt miners. The salt miners have carried on the ancient form of extracting salt which has been used for decades.
Edible salt is also known as grade 1 salt and it is formed in mud lined salt pans through a process of evaporation which is a result of heat from the sun especially during the dry seasons when the salt dries faster due to increased evaporation. When the lake is cooling at night crystals float and they are forced to sink when they drift against artificial barriers.
Crude salt is another type of salt extracted from Lake Katwe and it is in grade 2 classification. This salt is extracted from the remains of the products got from the pond at the end of the dry season and it is mostly consumed by animals. Another classification of salt mined in lake katwe is the rock salt in grade 3 and is extracted from the lake by mostly male miners who unload, stack and then sell the salt.
The semi-arid conditions of the area are characterized by little precipitation and high evaporation rates which do not favor other activities like agriculture which leaves the option of salt mining. The local community, however, would rather stand the sunshine than rainfall which reduces the amount of salt extracted from the Lake.
The undefined substances extracted from the lake contain minerals such as sodium, chloride, potassium, carbonates, sulfate ions, calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate ions.
Salt produced in the lake is of moderate quality and it has been produced over the years. The traditional methods used during salt mining have led to small and impure salt yields.
The salt in Lake Katwe is believed to come from a salty volcanic rock and the saline springs around the edge of the lake bring the water which adds many tons of salt into the lake. The salt miners extract brine known as “amaziba” from the lake and it is diverted into the salt pans.
Process of salt extraction
The process of extracting salt form Lake Katwe involves the salt miners go waist-deep into the water to extract the salt by hand. Before the black mud is sold the black mud is spread out and dried and then packed in bags after it dries. Some of the uses of the black mud which is extracted from Lake Katwe and dried include selling the mud to cattle keepers around for the purpose of using it as salt licks for the cattle.
The salt pans which are made at the margins of the lake are owned by individuals and sometimes are even inherited among some families. Extraction licenses are given to some individuals to mine in the central part of Lake Katwe. The issuing of licenses to salt miners was done in a bid to avoid salt mining which leads to the extinction of the lake.
The salt miners are also known to use their feet to crush the small crystals of salt into edible salt done commonly by the female salt miners as the male salt miners go out into Lake Katwe to extract the salt. Salt is mined for both human and animal consumption.
Salt mining and processing also involves purification of salts in order to remove the impurities which can be done through a leaching process. Another way of purification of salt in Lake Katwe can also be done by selective precipitation.
Risks associated with salt mining
Dangers of salt extraction in Lake Katwe includes severe effects as the salt miners do not wear protective gear. Some of the effects of salt extraction to the salt miners include painful sores on their hands and bodies, cuts and wounds.
Other dangers of salt extraction include risks of reproductive health among both the men and the women who can become impotent or barren due to the high concentration of the salty water in Lake Katwe. This, however, has not discouraged the salt miners from working tirelessly to extract salt. The air around Lake Katwe also has a bad smell of hydrogen sulfide gas and ammonia.
Other activities around Lake Katwe
Apart from the salt mines, the local community also owns craft shops that display the local art and craftwork which is another way of generating income for the salt miners and the locals to improve their standards of living.
Cultural visits can also be made in the area where Lake Katwe is located which involves interacting with the local community and learning about their way of life, listening to their folk stories, watching cultural dance performances and so much more to learn about the culture.
Tourists are able to learn the basics about salt mining in terms of the processes involved, methods of extraction, types of salt mined. Other attractions around Lake Katwe include Queen Elizabeth national park.
Activities which tourists engage in during visits to this national park include game drives, bird watching, boat rides along the Kazinga channel, visits to the crater lakes, hiking. Some of the wildlife species in Queen Elizabeth national park include buffaloes, elephants, antelopes, waterbucks, leopards, warthogs, forest hogs, reedbucks, duikers, and many others.
Unfortunately, there is no fish in the waters of Katwe due to the salty nature of the lake which does not favor breeding of fish. Salt production is a major activity in Lake Katwe which has improved the standards of living of the local community.