Strengths and weaknesses

Strengths 

  • Plant health clinics are demand-led: they respond to problems that concern farmers and give bespoke recommendations. 
  • They do not require special equipment so running costs are low. 
  • They build on existing knowledge and organisations that work directly with farmers and are familiar with local agriculture. They showcase what rural advisory services can achieve through effective use of available resources. 
  • They enable organisations to provide practical support to farmers on a larger scale. 
  • They help to forge new and stronger links between rural advisory services and national and international sources of plant health expertise and knowledge. 
  • Plant health clinics encourage constructive dialogue with agrodealers to guarantee that recommended inputs are available and that dealers respect the advice given to farmers. 
  • They provide a platform for public, private, and civil society sectors to collaborate. 

Weaknesses 

  • Operators struggle to schedule regular sessions in addition to normal staff duties. 
  • Attendance can be disappointing and continuing effort is needed to publicise sessions. 
  • Establishment of national forums and steering committees is a lengthy process. Signing agreements and confirming partnerships requires perseverance and steady negotiations. 
  • Partnerships between PHCs and agrodealers may be viewed with suspicion because of concern about bias in recommending pesticides. 
  • Farmers may expect instant diagnoses and advice, and plant doctors fret about not being able to meet this demand. 
  • The quality of advice is variable and needs sustained effort to improve. Gaps in knowledge and weak skills of PHC staff are difficult to overcome with plant doctor training alone. 
  • Developing local ownership and self-sustaining funding models for PHCs requires strong political buy-in. Changes in government policies and personnel can easily undermine progress. 

Best-fit considerations 

Plant health clinics are suited to all agricultural systems and address consistent demand by farmers for timely advice. The biggest gains are often seen where existing rural advisory services are weakest, as in Sierra Leone, for example. Plant health clinics are suited to farming communities that are often ignored or that fail to receive public extension support. They can be operated by many different types of organisation. They are flexible and adaptable to local conditions. The clinics help to bridge gaps between extension and research and strengthen collective responses to plant health threats and risks.