Dawn Francis shows off her award
Dawn Francis shows off her award

Dawn Francis is a grassroots person who is very passionate about sustainable and organic agriculture.

She is the owner of D's Smart Farm in Corona, and was exposed to the farming component of agriculture from a very young age through her parents and grandmother who owned gardens and farmed.

Her formal introduction to the sector came 21 years ago when "In 2000 I took part in a Youth in Agriculture Forum, and together with Mr. Reginald Severin wrote a project and I was granted a greenhouse and that is how it started."

She immersed herself in online research, read several books from Al Mario Casimir, Dominica's soil scientist, and pursued a course in sustainable agriculture from the UWI Open Campus.

"Then through IICA, I went to Mexico and got a diploma in family farming, I also did permaculture design funded by the GEF SGP where I went to Trinidad and became a certified permaculture trainer, I did a course in agro eco-tourism through the OAS education portal and that was really great," she said.

Permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. Dawn has been incorporating this on her farm along with her husband and children. D's Smart Farm networks with fisherfolk to create a fish emulsion which, in addition to chicken manure, is used as compost. The Francis' have developed a sustainable ecosystem on the farm and delved into agro-tourism, setting up a campsite on the land, but this closed due to the pandemic.

Dawn is devoted to helping others see the benefits of sustainable farming and offers her extension services to those who need them. She is a member of the Central Universal Farmers Group and firmly believes farmers need to incorporate the information gathered from training sessions into their farming activities.

She says many people farm sustainably in that they grow to sell and to feed themselves.

"If I have to look at it through the lens of a permaculturist, I would say not really in an organic manner or in a way that they use fewer pesticides," she said.

Dawn advocates for the construction of a compost facility to further promote sustainable agriculture.

"One of the issues is the availability of the compost and also the knowledge. If you are asking a farmer to transition into that area you need to ensure that the organic material is available," she said.

A major concern regarding agriculture is access to farms.

"A farmer will farm once he has markets as well as access to his land. So if a plan could be put in place to rehabilitate these roads then a lot of farms which were abandoned post-Hurricane Maria will have people return to them," she said.

She also recommends more be done at educational institutions to promote agriculture among the youth at all levels. Dawn believes more scholarships should be offered for agricultural studies and Dominica State College should offer short courses in extension services.

"Because the farmers need the extension officers they are like the doctors. I believe if more was done in regards to education in the agriculture sector we would see a big difference," Francis said.

She feels more can be done from the ministerial level to better assist the sector.

"As a farmer for quite a bit of years, I would really like to see my extension officers have appropriate vehicles so they can visit our farms," Francis said. "Also about scheduled visits by extension officers, farmers say "he comes when he wants or he comes when I'm not there". I think it is high time that more persons are employed in that sector in the Division of Agriculture,"

Going forward Francis would love to see farmers take a bigger leap of faith with technology and applauds those involved in aquaponics and hydroponics.

"The other area is, I would really like to see a lot of food produced in Dominica consumed here and our food import bill would be greatly reduced," she said.