One of the most famous look-out points in Uganda is in the Katwe-Kabatoro community on Katwe Salt Lake where traditional salt mining has been practiced since the 16th century. The neighboring Lake Munyanyange is a bird sanctuary and a migratory location for the lesser flamingo from August to November. Did you know that on the border of Queen Elizabeth National Park you can visit Katwe Salt Lake where you can see the traditional practice of Africa’s oldest industry?
Lake Katwe Salt Mining Industry
Salt mining at Lake Katwe dates back more than 700 years offering locals an appropriate source of income. European explorers John Speke and Graham Grant recorded about salt production in 1863 and 1864 respectively. This described the product as pure in taste and color. Lake Katwe has various tributaries bringing in water but without outlets to make the water saline.
In the dry season, extreme evaporation makes a concentrated salt solution to become salt rocks. The salt from this lake used to be exported to neighboring countries like to Rwanda and Congo before the discovery of deposits in other areas. The salt mining activity is steadily losing its spark because of the discovery of salt in neighboring countries. However, Salt mining is still a major source of livelihood for locals in Katunguru and Katwe communities.
The uniqueness of this place is not only limited to salt or wildlife in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Visiting the place is also an opportunity to meet the people of Uganda. The salt mining community is probably the richest representative of Uganda cultures. Evidently, Katwe salt lake and neighborhood is a community of an assortment of tribes and ethnic representative of up to 55 different tribes of Uganda. This makes it the workplace with the largest selection of all Ugandan tribes in one place, doing the same job. This representation gives proof of the importance of the lake as a source of livelihood. Visitors to the lake will get an additional opportunity to meet the people from different tribes of Uganda.
Process Of Salt Mining at Lake Katwe
Incidentally, this salt mining is still being done the same way it was done at the beginning around the 14th century. This system is characterized by the use of hands and simple tools for all the mining work, creation of salt pans owned and run by different community members and division of labor between men and women, where men extract the base rock salt while women only work in the shallow salt pans to mine the table salt. Salt pans are depressions dug in the ground on the edges of the lake to collect table salt. The walls of the salt pans are built with wood and mud, to separate them from each other.
The salt from Lake Katwe is known to be too strong beyond scientific classification and could not be mined by modern machinery. This is why, up to now; this slat is better mined by hand. Around the year 1970, a European investor, Thysen, tried to take a venture in processing salt from Lake Katwe. Thysen tools and equipment for salt processing and mining were eroded by excessive sodium chloride. Until now, all possible modern investors have lost interest in the salt mining activity of this lake. In one way, this has become an opportunity for the local community members to retain ownership of their livelihood through salt mining by hand. There has been an attempt to acquire protective gear but the excessive heat of the area complicates the use of this gear.
Salt mining at Lake Katwe thrives during the dry season. This happens from January to March and July to September. The dry season encourages extreme evaporation making saline water in Lake Katwe to concentrate forming the salt. When collecting salt, a garden (salt pan) is prepared by clearing grass from the area. The grass is heaped along the edge of the pond then dry soil is scattered over the exposed wet surface of this grass. Saline water is channeled from the main lake to the pond and this separate pond is monitored for the salt formation and harvesting.
Within each of the ponds, called the salt pans, the salt formation processes are monitored and facilitated by the individual owners. Crusted salt forms on the surface of the water and is plashed with water forcing it to go down to the floor. It is then collected by mostly women and washed with the lake water until it is clear without adding any other ingredients. This salt is then filtered to make table salt. The men shovel salt blocks from the lake bottom to the shallow end. Salt mines have wooden walkways where salt is extracted most times in large blocks. Highly crystallized salt is for human consumption as table salt. Rock salt is sold cheaply to farmers to add in cow feed and for tendering beans and meat in many households while the muddy salt is exported to be used in the production of fertilizers, manufacture of soap, or use in the textile industries for dying fabric.
Livelihood Of Lake Katwe Miners
The livelihood of salt miners revolves around the lake. These miners spend whole days under the hot sun while enduring the bad odor from evaporating saline water. During the dry season, salt goes under depression and temperatures significantly drop. There are various health concerns resulting from the toxicity of Lake Katwe. Locals are deeply concerned about the effect of exposure to their reproductive system.
People are deeply worried about the salty water in the lake making men impotent and women unable to have children. Despite these health concerns, people have to earn a living since the lake is their source of income. The locals seem not to get up to date health facilities to enable them to operate more securely. This makes miners use various primitive methods to protect themselves. Women place flour in their private parts to avoid exposure to toxic water. Men go into the water wearing condoms to avoid the effect of the water toxicity on their reproductive health.
Lake Katwe Salt Mining Experience
A visit to Lake Katwe takes a minimum of two hours during a Uganda safari through Queen Elizabeth National Park. Your guide will give you important information regarding salt mining and the history of the area. People here depend on Lake Katwe to earn income but business is no longer thriving than before. There is competition from other sources of salt. With low income, minors endure very poor standards of living although they have families to support. Since this lake is located within the wildlife area, ecotourism is one way to help the community members diversify their incomes as one way to sustain the local resources.
During your tour, you can support the local community by taking other tours or purchasing some memorabilia including art and crafts made by locals. These come in different varieties sold on the roadside to visitors. Selling these crafts is a way to diversify the income of locals. This prevents dependence on salt mining, which is no longer lucrative.
Apart from the salt mines, you can look for other attractions near Lake Katwe including:
- Craft making
- Various vegetation and animals
- Diverse local culture
- Living and lifestyle of the locals
- Visiting the fishing villages on the neighboring lake Edward
- Bird watching on Lake Munyanyange where you can find migratory flamingos during certain seasons.
- The bodaboda safari that takes you through the local villages and in the park.
- Katwe women traditional dance performance
Are you planning to spend your next vacation in Queen Elizabeth National Park and you are interested in exploring Crater Lakes? Have you ever heard about the Katwe Crater Lake? For visitors on safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Katwe Explosion Crater Lake should be a must to include in your bucket list.