Impact of plant clinics on disease and pest management, tomato productivity and profitability in Malawi
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omato (Lycopersicon esculentum) is one of the most widely cultivated vegetable crops in Malawi and a crucial source of vitamins and mineral nutrition. However, tomato production has been more constrained by pests and diseases compared to other vegetable crops, resulting in low yields and returns among the smallholder farmers. The Plantwise programme, involving the use of plant clinics, is an innovative approach to solve plant health problems in developing countries. Farmers participating in plant clinics are expected to benefit in terms of changes in knowledge, and management of crop pest and diseases leading to improved livelihoods. However, few studies have been carried out to assess the impact of plant clinics on farmers’ enterprises. Impact assessment demonstrates and measures the outcomes of a given agricultural development initiative. This study therefore aimed to assess the impact of plant clinic activities in Malawi on tomato productivity. The AKAP sequence (Awareness, Knowledge, Adoption and Productivity) was used as a methodological framework to evaluate plant clinic impact among smallholders in Malawi. The data was collected from 738 households (279 users and 459 non-users of plant clinics) through household interviews using the open data kit (ODK) in August 2017 and subjected to data cleaning and transformation before analysis. The data was analysed using R, SPSS and STATA procedures. The study revealed that both local and external sources of crop pest and disease information were important in Malawi, an approach which has been advocated as effective in managing insect vectors and bacterial/fungal pathogens in smallholder vegetable farming systems, such as Malawi. The plant clinics were shown to increase farmer-seeking and intervention behaviour of specific and knowledge-intensive agronomic solutions, compared to non-users who relied on local and more general sources of pest and disease management information. Users of plant clinics also recorded higher patterns in recognition of pathogen disease symptoms than non-users. Plant clinic attendees recorded significantly higher knowledge levels of red spider mite (RSM) of 19% compared to non-users (17%). Plant clinics users demonstrated increased tomato yields and incomes in Malawi. Users of plant clinics increased yields by 20% compared to matched non-users. The gross margins for tomato farmers improved by 21% for users of plant clinics. The plant clinics in Malawi enhanced the awareness and knowledge of tomato pests and diseases, which improved adoption of interventions and tomato yields in Malawi. Thus, this approach should be promoted and scaled up to improve the Malawi tomato sector through farmer training, awareness creation and capacity building on pathogens, pests and their effective management.