A generations-old tradition is brought up to date by a young engineer from a traditional salt-producing family
The blog for World Iodine Deficiency Prevention Day comes to us all the way from the Maras district, Urubamba, in the Cusco region of Peru, where Maras salt, the “white gold” of the Andes has been mined since pre-Inca times in what is now a national cultural heritage site.
Some 633 families in the Maras complement their farming activities through salt production. They build shallow wells, fill them with brine from an underground source, and wait for it to evaporate, leaving a thin layer of crystallized salt. Every month or two, when the layer reaches a thickness of 3-4 centimetres, it is extracted, dried, and delivered to Marasal’s production facility, where it is sifted, ground, iodized, fluoridated, and packaged for the market.
28-year-old Maria Esperanza Zambrano Hurtado belongs to one of the traditional families of Maras salt producers who still contribute to the production of Maras salt in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Her father, Climaco Zambrano Puma was involved in the installation of the first iodine plant in Maras in 1995, supported by the Peruvian government and UNICEF.
Inspired by her older brother, an engineer by profession, and her family’s history in salt production, Maria Esperanza chose to forge a new way forward. She studied chemical engineering in the city of Cusco and was doing an internship at Marasal when everything stopped because of COVID-19. But the experience sparked her desire to work for the company, and when she finished her studies at the end of 2021, she began her career as production manager.
Marasal’s ability to make high-quality, adequately iodized salt depends on supporting the production and management capacity of the salt-producing families. As someone who, as she puts it “has been working on salt production since we were children”, Maria Esperanza is driven to do that. She’s also part of management efforts to ensure modern manufacturing standards in the production facility. “We are working hard to train staff and internalize these practices,” she says. Another challenge is the availability of larger quantities of potassium iodate and quality control testing materials.
Maria Esperanza believes that every obstacle also presents an opportunity, and that believing in success will help achieve it. Combining modern methods and ancient tradition to better help Peru’s children to grow, learn and thrive seems like a good way to do that, especially on World Iodine Deficiency Prevention Day. And on this day, we should all remember that the continued iodization of salt helps us towards achieving a world without iodine deficiency.