Posted by / Friday 31 March 2023 / No comments

The importance of salt mining communities to the economy of pre-colonial Ghana




Salt has been a very important commodity in the life of humankind. It was the same in pre-colonial Ghana. It was a source of great wealth and a medium of exchange. It was used as a preservative to preserve meat and fish.  Salt was used to prolong the shelf life of food. This was to reduce post-harvest losses. It was also used to add some taste to food. The discovery of salt added a lot more taste to food. Without salt, food was hitherto tasteless.  It was a source of employment to those who lived in the mining towns and were willing to work. There were salt merchants who needed to carry their commodity to other places to sell and since there were no vehicles in those days, the salt was carried by head-porters across towns and villages to distant markets. Salt was also important as medication in the treatment of burns. When applied immediately after the burn occurred, it prevented blisters from developing. It was also used as a symbol of peace.

Types of salt mining

Salt mining took different forms depending on where it was mined but the most common system was the use of solar energy.

Along the coast, Sea water was collected inside deliberately dug holes. The Sea water was allowed evaporate and this leaves behind salts crystals. The salt crystals were processed for domestic use or for sale.

Some people collected Sea water into bowls. The water was allowed to evaporate leaving salt crystals in the bowl.

Salt could be collected from rocks. The salt rocks were soaked in water. The salt dissolved into the water. The salty water was left to evaporate. The salt crystals were left in the container.

Pre-colonial salt mining towns/villages

The search for salt, as a commercial commodity, dates back many centuries. Some towns and villages in pre-colonial Ghana, which are important as salt mining towns, are discussed in the following paragraphs.


Ada is an important pre-colonial salt mining town. It is situated at the south-eastern coast of Ghana and in the Ada West District of the Greater Accra region. Ada is reputed to have the largest lagoon in Ghana called Songhor Lagoon. It is also reputed to be the richest salt mine in West Africa, having half of Ghana’s salt deposits. Local communities have, for centuries mined salt. It was their basic source of household provision.

Traditional salt mining has been carried out by the indigenous people since pre-colonial times. Today, in addition to traditional salt mining, some companies have been given concessions and are using modern methods to produce salt.

Salt mining offered economic benefits to the local people in the pre-colonial era and now as an additional source of employment.

Today, Ada is still a major salt producing area, where commercial and artisanal mining is practiced side by side.

A major salt producing company in the area, currently, is Electrochem Ghana Limited which was given a 15year mining lease in 2020. A 3news report published on 30th November, 2022, indicates that at the time of the report, Electrochem was producing between 200,000 to 300,000 metric tons of salt annually. The projection, however, is to produce 2million tons of salt annually from 2023. The local people also have their concessions where they produce salt. To promote peace, commercial entities freely give out their concessions to the local people to mine salt.


This is another very important pre-colonial salt mining town in Ghana. It is situated some 67 kilometres to the northwest of Tamale. Administratively, Daboya is in the North Gonja district, in the newly created Savannah region.

From the 1700s to the 1800s, Daboya had been a source of salt. Some say, Daboya had supplied over half of the salt needs of pre-colonial Ghana. This had brought in a lot of money to the town.

A visit to the salt mine by Beatrice Senadju, in a video documentary shows that the reputed vast pre-colonial salt mine, much talked about is now a pale shadow of its past. In the documentary, one could see her pick pieces of salt from the top of some rocks but no mining activity is going on at the time of her visit. According to the District Chief Executive of North Gonja, Adam Eliasu, who was interviewed by Beatrice in her documentary, the salt is there in commercial quantities. However, they are not able to mine it for now. Mining requires huge investments which is unavailable at the moment.

Keta lagoon

For centuries, salt has been mined in areas around the Keta lagoon. It was one of the major commercial activities of the people as it raked in money and resources for them. It was also an important medium of exchange in the day. A lot of other towns and villages along the area up to Denu, in the Ketu South district of the Volta Region, mined salt. These villages were close to lagoons and not too far from the Sea. Water from the Sea is carried by tidal waves to mix with the lagoon water. In the dry season, the water evaporates, leaving salt crystals behind for the locals to collect. Some of these towns were Blekusu, Havedzi, Agavedzi, Adina and Afiadenyigba. In Anyarko, a peninsular close to Keta, salt crystals are left behind when the lagoon dried up in the dry season. This was harvested and sold or used for domestic consumption.

Today, commercial salt mining is replacing artisanal mining. Seven Sea Salt Company, agreement ends in 2026, subject to renewal. Kensington Salt Industries Ltd.


Elmina can be found in the Komenda/Edina/Eguafo/Abrem Municipality of the Central Region of Ghana. It was also known for its salt mining activities in pre-colonial Ghana. Elmina was into the salt trade several years before the arrival of the colonialists. There was a booming trade in salt with the inland people like the Ashantis. This salt trade was important to the people since it brought in a lot of money. The town was also important because it served as a conduit for channelling salt through the several trade routes it was connected to at the time.

Local salt mining served a source of employment to the local people. Since it was and still is a fish producing area, one may assume that salt was also important in preserving their stock of fish to better prolong their shelf life.

Commercial salt mining is still going on by a Ghanaian owned Elmina Salt Industry (ESI). However, their activity has dwindled. It is a great source of foreign exchange since their product is exported to neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso. In the 1950s, Pambros Salt Industries Limited also mined salt in Elmina, but after their lease expired, they relocated to Accra, at Weija. Mining by the local people is still happening in Elmina.


Apam is also a pre-colonial salt-mining town situated in the Gomoa West district. Lying along the coasts of Ghana, it is about 45km from Cape Coast, the capital town of the Central Region. The major activity of the people is fishing, but salt mining also finds space, in addition to trading.

Solar energy was employed to evaporate the Sea water so salt crystals could be left behind for harvest and sell. It was an alternative to fishing and trading. Commercial salt mining started in the 1950, when Pambros Salt Industries Limited got a lease to start salt production. By 1957-8, their lease expired. It is not clear whether the company was refused extension. The company relocated to Accra in 1958 to start the current Pambros Salt Industries in Weija


One can conclude that, of the many pre-colonial salt mining areas, many are still mining salt while others, for lack of investments, have stopped production. Salt is still a great source, livelihood to the locals and major companies have been operating to mine salt in commercial quantities for local distribution and export.

The importance of salt to the economy of pre-colonial Ghana 

<<Back to Home Page

Go to other topics in history>>

Related Posts