SAWBO RAPID Project Aims to Curb Newcastle Disease in African Chickens with New Animation Developed in Collaboration with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry

SAWBO RAPID looks to aid smallholder farmers in learning simple steps to prevent virus infection and help protect their flocks against Newcastle disease with the power of animation.

In rural Africa, sustenance farmers rely on their small chicken flocks for food and income. However, Newcastle disease often decimates entire flocks swiftly, sometimes within days. It is a virulent disease that affects the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems of birds and poultry. Once contracted, the virus most often leads to the death of the bird.


Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO), through the Feed the Future SAWBO Responsive Adaptive Participatory Information Dissemination (SAWBO RAPID) project has released the animation, How to Protect Your Chickens from Newcastle Disease, to aid smallholder farmers in learning simple steps to prevent virus infection and help protect their flocks against the disease.


SAWBO RAPID is an educational intervention program, based at both Michigan State University and Purdue University, that disseminates crucial food-security information in response to COVID-19’s secondary economic impacts, including disruption to trade, supply chains and markets, through the use of animated videos targeted to reach high-risk populations.


The animation was created in collaboration with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry managed by the University of California – Davis. Dr. Huaijun Zhou is the Director and Dr. Terra Kelly is the Deputy Director of the lab. The Genomics to Improve Poultry project team proposed the animation on Newcastle disease after participating in a SAWBO RAPID scoping effort held across Innovation Labs to determine available innovations that could be used to help people remain resilient in the ongoing crisis.


“The overall goal of the Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Lab is to breed indigenous chickens with more resilience in the face of Newcastle disease virus infection using advanced genetics and genomics approaches” says Zhou. “However, other complementary mitigation approaches such as biosecurity and vaccination are essential too.”


“This is such a devastating disease and one that our research is looking to find a sustainable global solution for. In the meantime, there are several simple steps farmers can take to mitigate the risks of Newcastle within their flocks,” explains Kelly. “Keeping these small flocks safe during the COVID-19 pandemic is even more crucial as the impact of losing of birds during times of crisis can be even more devastating to these families and communities.”


The simple steps Kelly references includes practicing good hygiene, keeping new birds isolated from the existing flock and keeping wild birds away, providing a good diet, and putting birds on a vaccination schedule.


Although a Newcastle disease vaccine does exist and is the best method for protecting a chicken flock, vaccines can be challenging to apply in rural developing communities in Africa.


“Newcastle disease vaccination is the best way we have right now to manage the disease, but many rural African farmers are still unaware it exists, find it difficult to obtain, or are not very confident on how to apply it,” says Kelly.


Newcastle disease is transmitted primarily through direct contact between healthy birds and the droppings and secretions of the nares, mouth, and eyes of infected birds. That’s where the good hygiene and isolation can play a key role in keeping the disease at bay.


The goal of the animation is to help farmers learn simple actionable  steps that can have a direct impact on their chicken flock, which also impacts themselves and their families.


Dr. Julia Bello-Bravo is a co-founder of SAWBO and has dedicated her research to understanding how people learn and adopt behavior changes.


“Raising chickens is an excellent way to provide rural families and communities fresh, healthy food and income for sure, but if your chickens die suddenly, and you don’t understand why or how to avoid the situation from happening again it becomes a negative experience. It’s all about education in disease prevention,” Bello-Bravo says. “Our research shows that when teaching a technique or concept using animation there are high knowledge retention rates.”


SAWBO RAPID animations target hard to reach populations who often have little or no formal education and low literacy levels. Bello-Bravo and the SAWBO team have over 35 publications on the topic.

“People want to learn and improve their lives. Low literate learners and those that only speak local languages are often marginalized in our traditional systems for providing educational materials.  Animations can be created in a way that it makes the content understandable to people of all literacy levels, without losing technical accuracy.  The content can be easily placed in to new languages, thereby making it understandable to a great diversity of people that speak local languages, explains Dr. Barry Pittendrigh who is also a co-founder of SAWBO and the Director for the SAWBO RAPID project.


“Additionally, animation can offer a familiar learning environment. The scenery and characters can be made to generically look and sound like those around you. In the videos you see these characters doing things you can do to make a situation better. This can make it easier to have learning gains and adopt behavior change.”


SAWBO RAPID will focus deployment of the animation across their target African countries of Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. They expect to quickly have the animation in over multiple language variants appropriate for Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria. The Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Lab will also work to deploy the animation across their dissemination networks.


Dr. John Medendorp is a co-principal investigator on the SAWBO RAPID project. “All of the videos in our library are available for free distribution for educational purposes,” he explains. “We welcome everyone to widely share our content and have developed effective deployment strategies for both individuals and large organizations.”


If you would like to learn more about SAWBO RAPID deployment strategies or have a language that you would like to see the animation available in, please email


SAWBO RAPID is funded by USAID through Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. The program is managed by Michigan State University and Purdue University and is an associate award of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Legume Systems Research.

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