The impact of the start them early programme in Oyo State
The Start Them Early Program (STEP) started in Oyo State about two years ago. It was a partnership between the Oyo State Government and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). The plan was to get students in secondary school interested in agriculture in order to create a new generation of young persons who understood the business of agriculture. In other words, to create an agriculture-based catch them early program. The Oyo State Agribusiness Development Agency (OYSADA) was mandated to facilitate this programme.
Today, STEP runs in ten schools in Oyo State. These are UMCA Grammar School (UMCA), Igbeti; Iresaadu High School (IHS), Iresaadu; Bishop Phillips Academy, (BPA) Ibadan; Fasola Grammar School (FGS), Fasola; Methodist High School (MHS), Ibadan; Adegun Asake Grammar School (AAGS), Igangan; Mount Olivet Grammar School (MOGS) Ibadan; Apode High School (AHS), Eruwa; Christ High School (CHS), Ibadan; and Wesley College of Science (WCS), Ibadan. All ten schools have benefitted from upgrade of their facilities as part of the programme.
The impact of this programme is seen in the change in the attitude of the students towards agriculture. From a general lack of interest and a perception that agriculture is only for old poor people who must rely on hoes and cutlasses to farm, to over 70% positive sentiments towards getting involved in agribusiness.
Since 2021, thousands of students have been involved in STEP. Between January and May 2022, STEP engaged a total number of 1,276 students in five enterprises. These are:
1. Crop and Mechanisation
2. Value Addition
3. Livestock Production
The students have shown great enthusiasm as they learn more about the business of agriculture and some have even gone ahead to set up enterprises at home, putting into practical use the things they are learning in class.
Like Adebiyi Oluwafemi Michael, an SS1 student of Methodist High School who registered for STEP Livestock Enterprise (Poultry Farming). He has been part of the programme for over a year. He said that what he has learned from STEP has been beneficial to his family.
Adebiyi’s mother who has a poultry, used to experience a high mortality rate for her birds because she did not have the requisite knowledge about medication and vaccination. But with what he learned from STEP, he was able to teach her. According to him, his mother’s poultry farm is now thriving. “Sometimes we don’t even have any mortality at all and it is all because of what I learnt from STEP.”
Adisa Ayooluwa is another student who has benefited from STEP. After one year of receiving practical training in the Value Addition Enterprise, he has learned to make chinchin, doughnuts, cakes, bread and other products. He has also opened a small business, Ayooluwa Multipurpose Ventures, which he runs with the help of his family. He makes his products from home and sells them to neighbours, schoolmates and teachers. His brother, who is also STEP ICT trained, creates the labels for his products, while his mother serves as his distributor.
The training has not only affected Adisa’s economic outlook but his social mindset as well. He said, “Before I joined STEP, I thought cooking and making snacks was only for ladies. But after I joined STEP, I realised that everybody is equal no matter their gender. So, both ladies and men can take [up] roles in Value Addition.”
Last year, a STEP Agri-Competition was held at the IITA and students from various STEP schools participated. Some of the winners were given a home agribusiness starter kit which contains one tank (for raising fish), sixty fingerlings and six bags of feed.
Oluwafemi, one of the winners, has been using his starter kit to raise the fish for four months (at home). “I am planning to sell them out (when they mature) to my neighbours and anyone else who is interested in buying them. (I will use) my profit from the fish to expand my farm at home. (Because of this) I am planning to study agriculture at a higher institution.”
The Director-General of OYSADA, Dr Debo Akande, sums up the impact of STEP in these words, “As a forward-looking state, we are using this programme to bridge a critical gap in the age of farmers. It is a well-documented fact that the average age of farmers in Oyo State is 60-70 years. With STEP, we are getting more young persons interested in agribusiness and we are reaping huge results.”