Plant health systems – a novel approach to plant healthcare in Uganda
Effective plant health management is fundamental to ensure food security and safety and to meet the demands of local and global markets. Regular and reliable plant health services are needed to support farmers; however, too often services fail poor people – in access, quantity and quality. Since 2005, Uganda has experimented with community-based plant clinics as a new way of providing plant healthcare to small-scale farmers. The plant clinics have revealed a large potential for fundamental improvements of local advisory services and disease surveillance through simple innovations in organisation, management processes and services. The Government of Uganda has included the plant clinics in the new Development Strategy and Investment Plan for the coming 5 years. The objective of the research project is to identify factors that influence the effectiveness of community-based plant clinics in Uganda in order to design interventions for the establishment of plant health systems. The outputs include: analytical frameworks to assess the performance and outcomes of plant clinics; knowledge about internal and external factors that influence clinic effectiveness; and recommendations for future plant health systems interventions. The project is based at DBL-KU LIFE and carried out in collaboration with Makerere University and CABI. Moving from a pilot scheme to a larger intervention requires knowledge about how plant clinics operate, what the outcomes and limitations are, and what interventions are needed to ensure effective, well-connected and accountable services. Linking plant clinics to effective networks of diagnostic labs, research institutions and input suppliers under a ‘plant health systems’ framework is a new and largely unexplored challenge that needs to be addressed.
The purpose of the project was to identify factors that influence the performance of plant clinics in Uganda in order to design interventions for plant health system strengthening. Field work was carried out in 13 districts in Uganda. Methods were developed to assess plant clinic performance using coverage, access, timeliness and quality as key performance indicators. A plant health system framework derived from the health system model of WHO was used to identify system factors that influence plant clinic performance. Despite the short period the plant clinics have existed in Uganda, our findings illustrate their potential to enhance the coverage of existing extension services. Yet, issues of equity in access need to be addressed. We found that locating plant clinics in market places creates a bias against women’s participation. Although the plant clinics became part of Ministry policy and districts showed increasing interest, there were structural barriers that made it difficult to institutionalise the plant clinics. A mismatch between institutional mandates, authority and resources limited the scope of the actions at district and central level. The plant clinics fell between the two stools of extension and pest and disease control. Finding an institutional base for the ‘orphaned’ clinics is key for sustainability. The research results have caught the attention of key actors in plant health and extension and are now being used to inform further planning and decision-making.