A Case for Improved Soil and Land Use Management in Dominica

Dominica’s national motto “Après Bondie C’est La Ter” meaning “after God is the land” highlights the importance of the land (the soil) to Island. The amount of precious top soil eroded by the torrential rains during the Erika disaster may never be quantified or featured among all we have lost. Nonetheless, losses incurred due to landslides and soil erosion and the subsequent impact on communities and livelihoods highlight the need to elevate the importance of soil and land use management in Dominica.

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The 68th United Nations General Assembly declared 2015 as the International Year of Soil. A primary objective was to raise awareness among civil society and decision makers of the profound importance of soils for human life. As a non-renewable resource, its preservation is paramount for food security and our sustainable future.
Soils are not merely parcels of uniform materials. Instead, they are units with characteristics that change vertically downwards through different layers and horizontally in every direction. Therefore, to describe a soil it is not sufficient to only look at the surface, a vertical cut or boring must be made and the different layers from the surface to the parent material (underlying rock) carefully examined.

The soils of Dominica were classified by Mr. David Lang over 40 years ago. His work provides general descriptions of the major soil types, soil forming processes and includes several important recommendations for land use planning and agricultural development. Mostly, the soils are formed by the weathering of volcanic rock. The weathering process results in the formation of clays and secondary minerals. However, the unique properties of the respective soil types are based on the underlying rock and as influenced by environmental factors, rainfall patterns, topography, vegetation and the extent of weathering.

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The physical and chemical characteristics of our soils, suitability for agriculture and other land uses are largely dependent on the type and quantity of clay they contain. For example, soils along the west coast between Jimmit and Tarreau dominated by Smectite clay minerals are noted for their shrinking and swelling properties. They shrink and crack considerably when dry and expand when wet. This activity is responsible for the cracks and movement frequently observed in the paved roads in that area. The Smectoid clays differ from soils on the north east, around Marigot, which are dominated by Kandite clay minerals. Kandoid clays are generally highly weathered (older), appear reddish to red-brown, are well-drained and better suited for agricultural development.

Several studies have investigated the mechanics of landslides in Dominica. The steep slopes, high rainfall and high water holding capacity of our soils are some of the factors that predispose many parts of the island to landslides. While heavy rainfalls are common in Dominica, it is the prolonged precipitation at high intensities, as occurred with Erika, which is capable of causing serious destruction from landslides.

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Efforts to rebuild Dominica must be focused on building resilience and adapting to climate change impacts. Soil conservation and land use planning based on available technologies and the findings and recommendations generated from scientific studies (most of which already exist) should guide policy decisions and inform activities at the farm and community levels. We must also rely on the practical experience of individuals who have continued in the traditions of our forefathers, by stabilizing slopes with deep rooting crop and forest trees, bamboo and vetiver strips and who willingly adopt the approach that some extra work now can set the foundation for a sustainable future.

Davidson Lloyd (PhD)

Rebuild Dominica and the Effort to Combat Black Sigatoka

Black Sigatoka Disease (BSD) is a fungal infection of the banana leaf which has plagued Dominica’s banana and plantain crops. In the wake of the Erika disaster, it is even more important to support the rebuilding of Dominica’s agriculture sector by such projects inspired and directed by collaboration between Dominicans, and friends of Dominica, at home and abroad.

BSD first identified in Dominica in 2012 is caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis similar to Mycosphaerella musicola the cause of Yellow Sigatoka which we have usually called banana leaf spot. BSD affects both highly susceptible Cavendish banana cultivars such as Robusta and Giant Cavendish as well as plantains to a lesser extent. M. fijiensis is more aggressive than M. musicola and replaces it in countries it has invaded.

Infection begins on the young leaves as they emerge at the top of the plant and results in major necroses of leaves, destruction of photosynthetic leaf tissue, early immature ripening, and yield loss.

In our highly humid tropical environment there are two strategies for BSD control, fungicide control and selection of suitable resistant cultivars. Fungicide control is very expensive for cost of fungicides, labour cost as well as frequency of spray cycles. The two strategies can run currently..short term use of fungicides, good agronomic practices (soil testing, fertilizers, drainage, field sanitation, proper calibration of ground mistblowers etc) and longer term field testing and provision of resistant cultivars to farmers. For fungicide control optimal sprays should depend on single fungicides or mixtures of mostly systemic fungicides with different modes of action in banana spray oil or oil emulsions, a workable biological forecast system to reduce number of sprays and laboratory testing to detect early any development of fungicide resistance. Forecasting has been known to reduce sprays from over 40 per year to less than 10. We will need trained field personnel to do forecasts on weekly basis.

So for existing Cavendish and plantain farms and any new plantings. e.g with recently imported tissue culture Cavendish cultivars from VITROPIC in France, fungicide sprays will be necessary. Longer term solution will depend on partially resistant cultivars and/or genetically modified bananas. Dr Clayton Shillingford with collaboration of Errol Emanuel and Dr Davison Lloyd are field testing nine banana and two resistant plantain cultivars obtained from BIOVERSITY INTERNATIONAL, Belgium, the world’s largest Musa collection, to determine suitability for cooking, ripening for domestic and export markets and agroprocessing. The resistant cultivars seen here were weaned and hardened in DAPEX shade house, Fond Cole and are now planted in the field for evaluation..(rate of leaf emergence and total leaves, ratooning rate, measure of BSD compared to Cavendish cultivars, plant height at shooting, bunch weight and configuration, hand and finger size and shape etc). to be followed by cooking and ripening and organoleptic tests for taste, sweetness, texture etc. Water shortage is an important limiting factor in agriculture and the problem is likely to get worse as a result of climate change. Irrigation is routinely used but we will also field test the cultivars by phenotyping for drought.

Rebuild Dominica is supportive of the efforts to combat black sigatoka. We intend to promote the best practices in agriculture and industry. We have made a start. Donate here and help us finish the job!

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Black Sigatoka Resistant Cultivars: Rebuilding Dominica’s Agriculture Sector

Dominican soil scientist Dr. Davidson Lloyd plants black sigatoka resistant banana cultivars provided by plant pathologist Dr. Clayton Shillingford, President Emeritus of the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Black sigatoka is a fungal infection of the banana plant which has plagued the island’s banana crop. In the wake of the Erika disaster, it is even more important to support the rebuilding of Dominica’s agriculture sector by such projects inspired and directed by collaboration between Dominicans, and friends of Dominica, at home and abroad.

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What Can a Volunteer Do to Rebuild Dominica?

A supporter of Dominica’s rebuild efforts called us one day and said: What can I do? I do not know what to do. Will I have the time?

My response was that we are all volunteers and that everyone is busy. However, where one chooses to form a committee to work on an area in which they have an interest, or skill, it would be the best way to go.

By teaming with others with a similar interest, we can Rebuild Dominica. As an organization, we are like a “junction box” – a place where we can collaborate with individuals, other organizations, and local and foreign governments to rebuild Dominica. We are an organization of Dominicans and friends of Dominica. We are open to all of humanity, and are committed to helping others in time to come where they may also have a need.

Volunteering ideas are endless. Here are some to help you get started:

  • Medicine/Healthcare – Join the Medical Committee.
  • Livestock – Form or join a group to replace livestock lost.
  • Engineering – Form or join a group to focus on rebuilding Dominica with best engineering practices.
  • Energy Group – Form or join a group that will introduce best renewable energy systems to Dominica.
  • Garden Club – Form or join a group that promotes agriculture and agriculture science on Dominica. By working with 4-H Clubs, the Dominica Botanic Gardens, and promoting school gardens we can rebuild with sustainability in mind.
  • Books/Reading/Writing – Form or join a book/reading/writing club to help our schools and libraries; and also to publish articles in local papers about our efforts.
  • Art – Form or join a committee to promote art work which can be sold to aid the rebuilding effort.
  • Music – Form or join a group that promotes music and concerts in aid of the rebuilding effort.
  • Sports – Form or join a sports committee so we can aid sports on island and host games overseas to raise funds.
  • Youth & Student Leadership – Form or join a group that encourages youth and student organizations such as the Dominica Cadet Corps, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Pathfinders, Junior Red Cross Society and student councils. Youth and students are the leaders of tomorrow and will be needed to rebuild.
  • Helping People with Disabilities – Form or join a committee to aid the blind, or physically handicapped.
  • Helping the Environment – Form or join a group which works to replant lost tree cover, and manage our rivers.
  • Emergency Services – Form or join a group to assist our police and fire service with emergency equipment to better protect the society.
  • Helping People in Need – Form or join a group to aid those in immediate need of support.
  • Spreading the Word – Join our media team so you can advocate/network for the long term rebuilding.
  • Cleaning Up Your Town or Village – Join or form a committee to keep our communities clean.
  • Working with Kids – Join or form a committee to collect toys and mentor kids.
  • Community Playgrounds – Join or form a committee to set up swing sets and simple playgrounds so kids can play again.
  • Dominica Chamber of Commerce – Form or join a group to aid and advocate for Dominica’s industry and to promote enterprise by networking between the local and international centers of production. In promoting production, we can aid Dominica’s exports and so rebuild income.
  • Dominica Culinary Arts Society – Form or join a group to promote Dominica’s cuisine as a fund raising tool.
  • Innovators Group – Form a committee to come up with ideas to rebuild Dominica.

Founded in 2015 in the wake of the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Erika, we are now organising relief from the direct hit by category five Hurricane Maria: the worst natural disaster in our nation's history.