In the areas of western Kenya historically cut off from the main salt routes, local communities have developed a distinctive method for extracting salt from an aquatic plant. It is thought that the origins of this practice date back to the 17th century when the Bukusu community migrated from the Congo to the east coast. Since then, the practice has been handed down over generations. Nowadays the production of reed salt is very limited: as it requires a demanding and time-consuming process, an imported marine salt first brought with British colonization has rapidly replaced it. Large-scale deforestation has also caused river levels to drop, with a consequent reduction in the marshy areas, where the reeds used to produce the salt grow.
Only the Bukusu community in the village of Nabuyole, in Webuye district, continues to produce salt using the traditional method.
Here, the muchua plant, a type of thin reed, grows in the waters of the River Nzoia in the dry season (from September to March). Reaching a height of about two meters, it is ready for harvesting when the flowers wilt and the highest leaves are almost dried out; before this the salt concentration is too low.
Bunches of reeds are arranged on stones by the river and allowed to dry. They are then heated on a slow fire for up to three days. The residual ash is mixed with hot water, filtered and boiled in a large pan on a fire. When the liquid has completely evaporated, a pure salty mixture is left on the bottom. It is collected, packed into banana leaves and dried under hot ashes overnight. Pepper is sometimes added, giving the salt a spicy flavor.
The thirty producers, who belong to the Nabuyole self-help group, have prepared production rules. The Presidium is also working on a project to reforest the area in order to recreate marshy areas where the reed can grow.
Naboyole area, Webuye district, Bungoma county, Western province
Jotham Wamukota Wasike
Tel. +254 727828455
John Kariuki Mwangi
Tel. +254 712843776