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Brine: Sustaining Nigeria’s Salt Requirement

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Since the discovery of salt some hundreds of years ago as an important commodity for domestic and industrial use, Nigeria still spends huge amount of foreign exchange on the importation of the commodity, either in processed or raw form. Salt is used mostly in cooking, preservation, cleaning of households in terms of bleach, soaps, detergents and dyes.

Among the benefits of salt is the control of body’s fluid balance, the functioning of the muscles and the nerves, promotion of healthy weight and fast metabolism.  When consumed adequately, it also aids in balancing the blood sugar levels and stabilizes irregular heart beats.

The country is blessed with natural brine in lakes, springs and saline waters which has been discovered in different parts of the country. In spite of the abundance of the sources of salt in the country, the processing of the commodity is still done locally by rural dwellers.  Salt is obtained from two sources: Rock salt and Brine. Rock salt is simply crystallized salt, also known as halite. It is the result of the evaporation of ancient oceans millions of years ago.

Most table salt is iodized in order to provide the trace element iodine to the diet. This helps to prevent iodine deficiency disorder (IDD), including goiter, a disease of the thyroid gland. This source is not found in Nigeria.  The second source is Brine, where large deposits are found in states such as Ebonyi, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Cross river, Anambra, Imo, Bauchi, Yobe, Bornu, Katsina, Kebbi and Sokoto.

In an exclusive chat with LEADERSHIP, a nutritionist, Mrs Nnenna Ujah, said the national demand for table salt, caustic soda, chlorine, sodium bicarbonate, sodium hypochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide exceeds one million tonnes.

She pointed out that while Nigeria is rich in natural brines, the country spends millions of naira in the importation of salt annually as it only accounts for a meager 0.01 per cent of global salt production.

“At present, the Dangote Group are the leading producers of edible and industrial salt.   The importation of salt in commodity group 2501 (salt including table salt and denatured salt) and pure sodium chloride whether or not in aqueous solution or containing added anti cooking or free flowing agents to Nigeria in 2018 was $63m.  Compare it with 2017 when $52m worth was imported. This has been the pattern of salt importation in Nigeria on annual basis.  For instance, in 2015, an estimated value of $43.5 was imported while this rose to $50m in 2016,” she said.

Ujah further explained that salt-bearing sediments are of great economic importance as they are the best and cheapest sources of salt, stating as a result, stakeholders in the minerals sector have called for exploitation of huge salt deposits in the country. She pointed to the Benue trough which she described as a unique rift feature on the African continent which occupies an intra-continental position and has a thick compressional folded cretaceous supracrustal fill.

“Stakeholders have highlighted the need for detailed evaluation of brine deposits in the Benue trough as the non-availability of technical information on this area had been a major hindrance to the successful development and commercial production of salt in Nigeria,” she added.

Reacting to this development, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof. Hussaini Doko Ibrahim, said it necessitated the need for investment in salt production in Nigeria, most especially, as the raw material is abundantly available, adding the council, as a result, had commissioned a study to trigger commercial production of salt in order to augment national supply and thereby reduce the pressure on scarce foreign reserves.

“To achieve this, council sponsored a research project to access the salt deposits and confirm their locations and suitability for use.  Detailed assessment and evaluation of the saline ground waters in parts of the Central Benue Trough, Nigeria, was carried during the study. The primary aim of the study was to conduct an integrated investigation into the saline ground waters within parts of the Central Benue Trough in order to understand their basic hydro geochemical characteristics and to identify the major processes controlling their concentration and accumulation,” he said.

He further said the council also collaborated with the Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa, on the design and fabrication of a thin layer evaporator and a solar dryer to upgrade the indigenous process used by native communities in the area to add value to raw salt and to promote investment in local salt processing, adding the fabrication and test-running of the equipment had been completed, and some modifications carried out to rectify the problems identified during the trial run.

“A stakeholders’ forum and public presentation of the equipment was then carried out. The forum was followed by a three-day training programme for women from salt producing communities in Ebonyi, Nasarawa and Kebbi states.  A team of officials from National Salt Company of Nigeria (NASCON), a subsidiary of Dangote Plc; Ministries of Science and Technology, Commerce and Industry and Information, Nasarawa State as well as Nasarawa State Investment and Property Development Company have undertaken visits to Awe and Keana salt producing communities to assess the areas identified as most commercially viable for salt prospecting on the basis of the study carried out.

“Sequel to the study, plans have reached advanced stage for the establishment of salt refining plants in Keana and Azara in Nasarawa State.  The salt refinery would serve as a common facility centre to refine the salt produced in various communities within the state.  Also, the council is working towards encouraging investors to build salt refineries in the area to reduce the cost of importation of salt into the country.  So far two investors have been identified and the council is working with them to ensure the project is actualised.

“Based on this initiative, it can be said that local technology now exists for the processing of salt in Nigeria. Some of the equipment required includes passive solar drier, which is made up of chimney, drying chamber, chamber door and flat plat collector. Others are thin layer evaporator; comprising of brine feed tanker, a chimney, fire box and combustion, fire box-door/damper, hot brine thermometer and cold brine.  This is being promoted in order to ensure proliferation of salt processing facilities in Nigeria,” he added.

 

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