Well known for its salt production, Lake Katwe is found within an explosion crater in the formerly active volcanic area north-east of Lake Edward and south-east of Lake George. The lake is found in the small run-down town of Katwe on the outskirts of the Queen Elizabeth National Park in the Kasese district and covers an area of approximately eight square miles. Its shores are lined with small ponds or pans of water from which salt is extracted from the bottom in a process called salt panning.
The water in this lake is 60% salty. The region is semi-arid and the soil doesn’t favour agricultural activities instead the major economic activity here is salt mining. The adjacent local community extracts the rock salt directly from this lake all through to the landing site and there it is dried and later sold. Taking a trip to this lake Katwe, offers an opportunity to learn about the skill of salt water, as well as a chance to directly interact with the salt miners regarding their experience in salt mining. Since the 16th century this mine has been in existence and miners are up to date using the traditional methods while harvesting the salt.
Salt has been extracted from this lake over many years. Salt is mined from small plots. These plots are not the common plots of land like the ones you will find in central, Eastern or other parts of Western Uganda. These “plots” are ponds 10 by 12 feet or so wide and 3 to 5 feet deep. They are demarcated on the shores of the lake, owned by private individuals or families and inherited. Mining in the center of the lake is only done by licensed individuals. The association for Rock Salt Extraction issues the licenses for extraction of rock salt from the middle of the lake. This type of arrangement was made to ensure that the salt is extracted in an orderly process without causing extinction.
Salt content of the lake waters is approximately 13.5%. The Lake bed is 0.8 meters thick and contains approximately over 12 million tonnes of salt varying in composition and depth and has salt stocks which are estimated to sustain an industrial extraction plant with a production rate of 7 tonnes of salt per hour. For this reason, an industry to mechanize the salt production process was put in place in the 1970s by Idi Amin Dada.
There are three major types of salt mined from this lake that is; Crude salt for animal leak, Edible salt (sodium chloride) and Unwashed salt. Two types of activities take place in this region and the roles are specified for the women and men. Salt winning (winning salt from the plots – done by the women) Rock salt extraction is done by the men – 3 days a week.
The women scrap the bottom of the salt garden to hollow out the salt. They make use of their feet to smash the salt to smaller and fine crystals after which they wash these crystals to form edible salt normally called the washed salt or sodium chloride. The men enter the water at 8am and work up to 5pm. They work for three days a week and each man extracts more than 1000kgs per day. Despite of the salt production, rain hinders salt mining a lot where by the gardens flood and salt takes longer to form. The sun on the other hand makes the process of salt formation faster.
Ambutch trees are used by the miners to float on this lake as well as transport the harvested salt from the rim of the lake up to the landing site where it is sold. Mining within the central part of the lake is merely done by individual with licenses.
The association for Rock Salt Extraction is responsible for issuing the extraction licenses for the rock salt from the center of this lake. This sort of arrangement was put in place to make certain that the salt in this lake is extracted in a very systematic process devoid of causing extinction. The “Plots” are found on the lake shores of this impressive lake Katwe.