Salinity for the rural poor and sustainable livelihood for farmers
Due to a lack of health awareness and malnutrition, many people from rural communities in Bangladesh suffer from various mineral deficiencies like iodine deficiency, which can cause diseases such as goitre and prenatal ill-health. When BRAC Salt enterprise was initiated in 2001 in the Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh, iodine deficiency was acute amongst the rural population across the country and BRAC ventured into producing iodised salt to help curb this problem. BRAC enterprises are mostly known as pioneers in many sectors throughout Bangladesh and BRAC Salt is no exception. Its entry into the iodised salt market inspired many entrepreneurs to produce iodised salt as well.
However, addressing iodine deficiency was not the only motivating factor for BRAC to start operating as a salt enterprise. There was a much deeper mission, one that would ensure sustainable development by encouraging local salt farmers to continue on their income generating paths, especially in view of the supply deficiency for raw salt in Bangladesh which had compelled the government to import salt from other countries. However, BRAC's position on this was that if import of salt was allowed, then two things may happen: Bangladesh's salt market would be externally controlled and local salt farmers may even lose their livelihood due to competition. With this in mind, BRAC started producing salt and eventually convinced the government that there is now less need for imported salt.
BRAC Salt not only supports the salt farmers but also its consumers, who almost exclusively belong to the underprivileged social groups from the rural northern regions of the country.
People precede profit
Although BRAC Salt has had a significant social impact, as an enterprise it has faced some considerable setbacks. Firstly, it became difficult for BRAC to compete within the salt market as it did not want to follow the competitive practices because it would jeopardise its social impact. Moreover, the natural grey salt that it produced also lacked the refinement demanded by the urban population. Therefore, BRAC Salt lacked demand and a steady profit from the urban market, which adversely affected its sustainability. The management even considered closing down the whole enterprise, as it was only a small-scale business and the surplus it made was too small for any further expansion plans. However, taking into consideration over the 120 workers who are dependent on this enterprise for their livelihood, the management decided to downsize, rather than shutting down the entire operation. The enterprise is currently focusing on increasing efficiency and introducing new products to the market.
BRAC Salt today
One of the latest products BRAC Salt introduced into the market is Minamix, a supplementary cattle feed. Researchers at BRAC’s cattle-related enterprises and Bangladesh Livestock Research Centre (BLRC) realised that there was a mineral deficiency in the cows reared by rural farmers, which led BRAC and BLRC to co-create Minamix. It is essentially a high mineral-based salt, containing essential components lacking in the cows. It can be mixed directly into cattle feed, helping farmers raise healthier cows that will produce a higher yield of milk and meat. The challenge now lies in reaching out to rural farmers to educate them about iodine deficiencies in their cows and introducing Minamix. The enterprise is hopeful that once the targeted market recognises the benefits of this innovative product, BRAC Salt will get the chance to revive itself and be established once more as an innovative leader in the salt market.