Philosophy and principles
The main aim of PHCs is to give farmers advice on plant health problems. The key features are described below.
Target audience: Plant health clinics are open to all farmers, and aim to provide equal access to men and women from all social and ethnic groups. They accept any crop and any type of problem.
Location: A PHC should be accessible, visible, and held at times that are convenient to farmers. Good publicity is essential for all venues, such as markets, community centres, and other places that farmers regularly visit. Offices in extension and agricultural department buildings tend to work less well without mobilisation of farmers.
Frequency: Once every two weeks for around two to three hours is recommended, but this is subject to availability of staff and funds. When demand is low, for example during the dry season when few crops are grown, PHCs may temporarily cease.
Equipment: Table, chairs for plant doctors and clients, shade (if held outside), hand lenses, knives for cutting open plant samples, PHC banner, forms for recording queries and giving recommendations to farmers, reference literature (e.g. pest and disease handbooks), and extension materials (e.g. photosheets, fact sheets). Laptops and tablets are useful for recording queries and advice and for showing photos of symptoms.
Samples:Farmers should bring examples of unhealthy plants, preferably with early symptoms. Material should be disposed of safely to avoid spreading pests and diseases. Reference photographs of key pests and diseases can help to diagnose problems where no samples are available or material is of poor quality.
Plant clinic data: Systematic recording of queries and advice helps to monitor PHC use and the relative importance of different problems, including new pests and diseases. Analysis of advice identifies areas where PHC staff need further training and information. This feedback is important for PHC staff to understand the benefits of recording data.
Operators: Plant health clinics are run by many different organisations involved in agriculture. They include public extension services (e.g. Pakistan), farmer organisations (Nicaragua), agricultural institutes (China), NGOs (Uganda), and national plant protection organisations (Burkina Faso).
Staffing: Clinics may be conducted by extension workers, plant health inspectors, and others who have attended plant doctor training courses (Box 2). At least two people (plant doctors) are needed to process queries efficiently and share their thoughts on diagnosis and advice.
Technical support and follow-up: Plant health clinics provide a standalone service but work best when they can access linked services and resources facilitated by a plant health system approach (Box 1).