(following is an edited tribute submitted by the Soroptimist International of Jamestown)
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we remember and honour the clarion work in food security, of one of our mothers of the soil, the late Senator Carmeta Fraser.
Auntie Carmeta as she liked to be called, is known through her thousands of mouth watering recipes using local produce, often grown in her modest kitchen garden; organising courses on food preservation and food promotion; as well as for her slogan, “food comes first, let’s eat what we grow and grow what we eat!”
Today we have the very visible initiative of the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation, Carmeta’s Retail Meat Shop, providing customers with local affordable fresh meat and agro-processed products. However the legacy , the work of Carmeta Fraser runs much deeper.
As Food Promotion Specialist at the Barbados Marketing Corporation, Auntie Carmeta partnered with the National Nutrition Centre to popularize the uses of nutritionally sound locally produced food like bananas and plantain, cassava and sweet potato, okra, carrots and breadfruit – enabling promotion with new techniques ensuring longer shelf life as well as transformations into jams, jellies and other preserves.
She put partnerships in place with the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, with the 4Hers, fisheries, ethnic markets around the globe, agro energy and tourism industries, she insisted that the food we grow in our backyards, will always be of a higher quality than any we could import.
Senator Carmeta imported gardening techniques from Africa, China, India and Japan, modified them and made them our own, insisting that every man, woman and child, fork and produce from a plot of land, no matter the size. The experience and practise was the key to wealth creation, the maintenance of health. This was a mantra of hers!
Auntie Carmeta promoted small scale farming organised for cooperative marketing. She was not keen on large scale industrialized farming techniques that denuded and devastated the areas they found, though she championed many initiatives on the part of small scale farmers, who partnered in expanding their enterprises.
“Forget about this sugar cane business, it has harmed us physically, emotionally and fiscally, let us leave it behind,” she said.
Advocating for the investment in diverse, innovative technologies to prioritize local food production for the domestic market, such as greenhouses, hydroponics, water harvesting, aquaculture and wind tunnel technology, she maintained the agricultural sector should be repositioned and majorly invested in, with a view to developing a sustainable sector, a developed nation.
Jovial, but hardly able to endure foolishness, Carmeta inspired generations aplenty to invest in agro-industrial development as the route to this country’s mobility, arguing tirelessly that only with the investment in food security, the harnessing of energy, the linking with other sectors and competitiveness, would we succeed in supporting our people. Agriculture must lead the way!
Mrs Fraser led the fight against the longstanding and emotional resentment against traditional agriculture, acknowledging it provided wealth for a few, but at a very high cost to the majority. Producing a raw material for an overseas market, for an entire country to rest on, seemed like folly to Carmeta.
She argued, if you want to produce sugar, coffee, coconut, cocoa, spices and cotton, do something with it here, like the creation of sea island cotton industry, and the cosmetic bases in the Spa Industry. Refashioning our agricultural sectors, she put forward, would generate sustainable and more importantly, universal wealth, growth and employment for Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean. Promote flower and fruit orchards, produce large scale cottage preserves – supply hotels, restaurants and spas. Put greenhouses, hydroponic and aquaculture systems in schools – have children learning about being productive. She was consistent throughout her career that investment in innovative technologies and new knowledge applications would have us capitalizing on opportunities too great to bypass.
Senator Fraser lobbied governments and companies, the pharmaceutical industry to exploit the markets opening up in China, North and South America, Europe and Australia for liquid herbal extracts, dried and fresh herbs, teas and essential oils. She maintained that creating a Caribbean business/ agency to capitalize on these, was the way to proceed as the natural, mineral and hot springs dominant in Dominica, St Lucia, Guyana, Suriname and St Vincent and the Grenadines, is begging to be generated. She emphasized the rum and spirits industries have to stand watch of cutting edge technologies in bio-fermentation technologies, to maximally benefit from the gaping void of opportunity. Exploit them, invest in them, export them – her persistent and clarion call.
However it was in the linkage with tourism, that Carmeta saw the biggest gains. She calculated that the value of investing in feeding tourists with delicious locally produced foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner, would be a win-win game that we could only get increasingly better at. Fresh and frozen vegetables, sea foods – saltfish and cassava bakes was a favourite dish of hers, meats – black belly lamb and pepperpot and roti, dairy products – authentic Caribbean food to folks visiting the Caribbean to participate in things Caribbean.
Importing trinkets from Taiwan and China and labelling them souvenirs of Barbados, tolled a bell of utter rubbish for Carmeta especially when unemployed youth sat listless, and animal hides, roots, grasses, seeds and straw were strewn away as waste products.
Carmeta Fraser stood as a beacon telling us we can labour under a massive import bill OR we could invest mightily in new technology, research and training to rework the extreme potential that food and non food agriculture has in store for us.
The choice, as always, remains ours.
May god continue to bless our nation and region as we continue to “punch above our weight”!
Happy International Women’s Day – may it be productive and bountiful.