Today we had our earliest day yet (7am pick up) to make the drive to Surendranagar district. We picked up Payal-ben, our wonderful guide for all things RUDI and SEWA, and made the ~3 hour drive west. Our first stop (after picking up the salt farming coordinator) was the desert and salt farms. Our vehicle was definitely NOT made for off-roading, but thankfully our driver is, so we somehow made it onto the desert without getting too much air on the bumpy roads!
Four months of the year the desert is under 7 feet of water, so it was pretty incredible to see it so dry and barren.
The salt farming families go to live there during farming season in huts that they have to rebuild each year.
On the drive in, we were very surprised to see row boats on the dry ground, just waiting for the flooding season to arrive! See a video of the desert here. We also learned about the salt flats and how they pump the water from ~50 feet down into pools that are evaporated by the sun and increasingly become more and more salty until you are left with Gypsum salt.
Next we visited the Surendranagar district processing center, where we learned about RUDI processing operations and their castor seed procurement. This district actually bundles many of the seeds, spices, and pulses (grains) together in an effort to increase sales, which has been very successful for them.
The Surendranagar district is performing better than the Mehsana district, so we are trying to understand the similarities and differences between them. Surendranager has also been facilitating castor seed procurement for a year longer than Mehsana, so they have been able to work a lot of hiccups out of their system already. The head of the farmer’s group was especially helpful and took us to his village to see the actual castor seed cleaning process in action. See a video of the cleaning process here.
It’s definitely interesting to be the main attraction and it was a great place to hand out the Hershey kisses we had been carrying around for days to the village children