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A Once Profitable Practice has been Affected by Modernity

The salt pans of Kalala near Bilma in northeastern Niger were once an essential stop for traders with their swaying lines of camels. Salt digging, carried on from generation to generation, was a thriving business, involving a commodity so precious that it was bought and sold across the Sahara and beyond. Over centuries, hundreds of pits have been dug by hand and then filled with water to leach salt from the local rock. Today, in this isolated desert region plagued by armed gangs and smugglers, the diggers struggle to survive. The local economy offers few alternatives, and roughly half of Bilma’s population still works in the pits, according to local officials.