June 21, 2017

Guest Commentary – To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate: The Dilemma for Chicken Farmers in Tanzania

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2017 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

By Zoë Campbell, PhD Candidate, Washington State University and Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, and 2017 Next Generation Delegate

The farmer I am meeting with today proudly shows me around her chicken coop, pointing out the drinking water container and the wooden perches. She is in her fifties, and lives with her husband in a peri-urban area in northern Tanzania. Her children are grown, but she is dressed in bright yellow and red kitenge fabric to meet her daughter at church in a few hours. The young birds in the coop have already started to lose the fluff they had as chicks, and they enthusiastically jump as she opens the wire door to toss in some green leaves. The chickens are clearly well taken care of, but this household is similar to 80 percent of chicken-owning households in Tanzania. The chickens are not being vaccinated for Newcastle Disease.

Newcastle Disease is a viral disease that causes high mortality in chickens and is considered one of the greatest constraints to poultry production in East Africa. The vast majority of chickens in Tanzania are local breeds and owned by smallholder farmers living in rural areas. A dead chicken means lost income, lost opportunities for protein and nutrient-rich eggs, and lost economic security as households often sell chickens to deal with expenses such as a child’s school fees or a doctor’s visit. “Two years ago we lost most of our chickens,” the woman tells me. “Our neighbors lost all their chickens.” She has heard about vaccines, but has never used them.

Two types of vaccines effective against Newcastle Disease are sold in Tanzania, and studies show that using either vaccine leads to a larger flock. So why are only 20 percent of households vaccinating? The average household owns eleven chickens, and the smallest amount of vaccine sold is 500 doses. Vaccines not handled or stored properly can lose their effectiveness. Even if a farmer is willing to pay for the amount of vaccine she needs, she may incur other costs if the nearest veterinary supply shop is far away. There are local remedies for Newcastle Disease such as aloe vera which are more readily accessible, though most farmers I spoke with concluded these remedies aren’t very effective. Lastly, the vaccine needs to be re-administered periodically, and some farmers have a hard time keeping track.

At the 2017 Global Food Security Symposium, I overheard someone remarking that we are a very “impact-driven” audience. We yearn to see tangible results of our work and progress towards a more food-secure planet. My take away from the diversity of speakers was that dramatic changes are not possible unless the right conditions are met at many levels. Fortunately, many talented people are engaging on many levels. We heard about working at the individual level from Madame Bineta Diop. “I’d rather being in the field”, she told us during her talk, referring to her work with women in many African countries. Others such as Euler Bropleh are working with early stage companies. Others still such as Douglas Bereuter, former member of the US House of Representatives, bring change through government and legislation.

Returning to our Tanzanian farmer, what would it take for her to vaccinate her chickens? What conditions need to be met? My research is focused on identifying determinants and barriers at the household level. For example, farmers have mentioned that the cost to travel to where the vaccine is sold is a barrier and that it is difficult to remember to follow the vaccination schedule. Even if these barriers are addressed, the problem doesn’t end with the household. Vaccines need to be produced and distributed, with each link in the chain receiving sufficient compensation to motivate continued service. The veterinary system is overseen by the Tanzanian government, and government policies and funding levels impact how accessible veterinarians and livestock extension officers are to communities. Trade policies between countries may affect sale and distribution of one of the vaccines, which is imported. Sometimes NGOs and governmental aid programs provide livestock extension services or inputs such as vaccines to communities, which impacts who will use the technology.

In short, a decision that appears to happen at the individual or household level is actually affected by business environments, government policy and funding levels, and even international trade laws. Tipping the scales in favor of our farmer and her chickens probably requires action on many levels. The Council’s Symposium demonstrated to me that though my research and work focuses on only a tiny part of the puzzle, there are many others working at many levels towards a common goal.

Read previous blogs by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates:

Unifying the Next Generation through Open Data

Food Security: Agriculture, Society, and Ecology

Canada's Challenge: Ending Chronic Food Insecurity in the Far North

Nutrition Security in the 21st Century


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

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Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

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