A News Analysis by Ibukun Emiola,
Abdullahi Sulaiman, a 17 years old student of Methodist High School, Ibadan, who aspires to become a veterinary doctor in future is one of the beneficiaries of the Start Them Early Programme (STEP) of the Oyo State government in partnership with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
STEP aims at changing the mindset of young people in primary and secondary schools and providing basic understanding for better directing secondary schools and their students towards careers in modern farming and agribusiness.
Methodist High School is one of the missionary schools which the government took over for better management and has been one of the schools chosen to the state government to begin the STEP agribusiness.
Attesting to the impact of the STEP initiative, Abdullahi said: “We have gained a lot in this innovation because in our laboratory before, we did not have apparatus but our laboratory has been equipped, and we can do any practical even in Physics, Biology and Chemistry.
“Our trainers have taught us some practical lessons such as food tests, chromatography that is and separation techniques, among other things’’.
Another beneficiary, Damilare Akingbija, a 16-year old SS3 student, said that he was happy being part of the initiative.
“I thank the organisers of this initiative for what they are doing in our lives, they have really impacted our lives a lot.
“This is because all the things they are teaching us and all the things we are seeing we have not seen them before, but with the help of this programme, we are exposed to those things.
“I have learnt how to make doughnuts, soymilk, puff-puff and chin-chin.
“Though I intend to study law in university and become a lawyer, I would also have a bakery of my own where I can produce all these things, so that I can employ people and improve the economy of Nigeria and reduce crime rates,’’ Akingbija said.
Before STEP initiative in Methodist High School, Ibadan, Mr Deji Solanke, an old student of the school and National Vice-President of the school old boys association, said that the school had witnessed a sharp drop in enrollment and the quality of education.
“When we raised the concern with some parents, the excuse was that the school was cited along express road but we knew it was not true considering the fact that we used to have overwhelming numbers of students in the past and the location is the same.
“We later got to know that the real issue was the learning environment and the quality of education offered.
“The alumni association has since then risen to the challenge but we are much more relieved now that the STEP initiative has filled the gap,’’ Solanke said.
Mr Joseph Ilori, the Director of Oyo State Agribusiness Development Agency, said that STEP was a platform to raise job providers and raise the standards of living of the younger generation thereby culminating into a viable economy for the state and the country as a whole.
He observed that students “are being taught agriculture and value addition so that the sector can thrive in the future.
“Our farmers are ageing and there is no replacement for them.
The government of Oyo State is just thinking ahead hence the partnership with IITA to teach the younger ones so that they can take to agriculture.
“Agriculture should be a business not just for the fun of farming. As we catch them young, now we also teach them all the value chains of agriculture from production to processing and packaging as well as marketing.
“It is a wholesome programme which, if imbibed by the younger ones, would be a revolution of agriculturists and they will take it as a career’’.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Adebayo Adefioye, the Coordinator of STEP in Nigeria, Kenya and DRC for IITA, said “the programme is done to transform agriculture for the coming generation so that they see it as a veritable venture in generating incomes and maintaining a good livelihood’’.
According to him, IITA has the mandate to improve food production and sustainability as well as to reduce unemployment particularly youths unemployment.
“This initiative started in 2012 when IITA, through its Director-General, Dr Sanginga Nteranya, initiated a youth programme across the continent, a programme called IITA Youth Agripreneur.
“After years of running the programme, IITA realised the need to start from the grassroots right from their prime age to incorporate agribusiness into school curriculum.
“And we are doing it to redirect their aspirations and interest in agriculture; perhaps they do not know the interesting opportunities in the value chains of agriculture hence their disinterest in the careers of agriculture.
“We want the younger ones to know that agriculture is not in tandem with poverty as many people think.
“We are keen on re-orientating them about agriculture and also develop their capacity and their skills in agribusiness management.
“So that upon completion of their education, they can start on their own with the skills they have acquired,’’ he said.
He said for there to be a real change in the present situation of African in the agricultural sector, “we have to start catching them young from the secondary schools because they fall into the age bracket of those disinterested in agriculture’’.
Adefioye said “STEP is a three year program and we will set up a sustainability plan that will ensure that the facilities last and teachers are trained as well to continue the initiative.
“One veritable way to ensure this is integrating STEP into the school curriculum and appointing teachers to oversee its affairs.
“We are looking at organising STEP teachers’ association as a means to integrate the teachers into the programme, which will be beneficial to teachers also because the success of the students is that of the teachers as well.
“We want to be able to come back in 10 years and see that the initiative established is vibrant and impacting more lives.
“We are looking at involving stakeholders, private organisations and non-governmental organisations to be part of the initiative to sustain the initiative’’.
Adefioye said other countries in Africa; Kenya and DRC had recorded success and increase in enrollment of students in schools with the STEP initiative.
He said it had also caused movement from urban areas to rural areas in places where the schools with STEP initiative are located.
“The initiative had trained 1600 students across the three countries. We have given some of the students businesses in agriculture that they are using to sustain themselves and would be handy after graduating from school.
“The programme has been able to influence the government policies on education and agriculture positively even in DRC Congo and in Kenya, Nairobi; we have been able to train teachers as well’’.
“The efficacy of the programme in other countries had led to the expansion of the initiative to other schools which are not part of the initiative from the onset.
“Here in Nigeria, the Oyo State government has adopted it for expansion into other schools, beyond Oyo state, we have extended STEP initiative to Kano State, Kaduna State and Lagos State,’’ he said.
Adefioye said a lot is being done on developing the capacity of secondary school students, changing their mindset about agriculture and making them to see the value chains in agriculture.
“It is improving the educational system as a whole, we are talking about science, agriculture and school libraries, among others.
“We are improving the learning conditions for students and strengthening the existing curriculum through improved agribusiness mechanisms, modern facilities; and we are also using them to reach the community members,’’ Adefioye said.(NANFeatures)