Yinka Kolawole in Osogbo
The school feeding and health programme has remained one of the top policies and programmes adopted by the Osun State Government for the development of agriculture and food production in the state. The policy has in turn generated jobs and economic empowerment for the unemployed while the small and medium scale enterprises have been encouraged.
Though the initial objectives of the programme were to increase school enrollment, encourage attendance and completion rate, as well as enhance pupils’ health in all public elementary and primary schools across the state, farmers appeared to be the major beneficiaries of the programme through massive production of food and ready market for their products. It has also boosted the income of local farmers thus poverty index has reduced as all goods are sourced locally.
On a weekly basis, about 40 herds of cattle; 10,000 crates of eggs; 20,000 chickens, over 400 metric tonnes of fish are needed to feed the pupils.
About 500 youths were trained and empowered for mass fish production under Osun Fisheries Out-Growers Production Scheme (OFOPS). The scheme supplies over 400 metric tonnes of fish regularly for the school feeding, while the cultivation of cocoyam through a cocoyam rebirth programme was also encouraged.
At a start, over 1,000 cocoyam farmers (selected across the nine federal constituencies in the state) were trained and assisted to mass cultivate pink cocoyam for inclusion in the school feeding menu. Today, the number has risen to over 15,000, as more women and young adults have taken to farming; cultivating cocoyam, vegetables, tomatoes and melon.
The programme which started in 2006 in the state is said to have become a success story and an irreproachable model of reference to many states and countries as pupils from kindergarten to primary four in public elementary schools in the state are fed daily with balanced foods that are rich in protein, with fish, meat, vegetables and fruits while they are de-wormed twice a year.
A comprehensive menu was drawn up by education stakeholders in the state which among other things would help to develop the brain capacities of the growing children in their formative years.
It was resolved that a well fed pupil is likely to be healthy and more attentive in class than those on empty stomach. It was further stressed that functional education cannot be sustained on empty stomach, malnutrition or food for the sake of food hampers the development of the brains of school age children.
Addressing visiting delegates from 35 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on the school feeding programme, the Deputy Governor, who doubles as the Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Titilayo Laoye-Tomori, said the programme started in the state in 2006 as one of the 13 pilot states.
She explained that the Aregbesola administration extended the beneficiaries of the programme in 2012 to primary four and renamed it Osun School Feeding and Health Programme (O-Meals), adding that the real impact of the programme cuts across many sectors.
Laoye-Tomori maintained that the free meals in public schools has led to a significant increase in enrollment from 155,318 to 194,253 after four weeks of implementation, adding that currently over 252,000 pupils are being fed and they now remain in school till completion.
“According to the Federal Bureau of Statistics Report of 2013, Osun has the highest primary school enrollment rate in the country and the lowest number of children of school age being out of school.
She added that through the programme, the state was able to capture the actual figure of school pupils being fed under the programme costing the government N18 million per week.
She said a total of 3,007 food vendors were engaged, trained, kitted with uniforms and made to undergo medical screening, adding that the vendors were given loans for cooking utensils and organised into 124 functional cooperative investment and credit societies for effective administrative purposes.
The deputy governor noted that the success of the programme has attracted accolades from local and international fora. She said in 2014, the British Parliament invited the governor to talk on the implementation of the school feeding programme and was commended by the parliament.
She explained that commendation also came in from the government of South Africa which sponsored her visit to the country.
While applauding the delegates for the visit to have an insight into the workings of the school feeding programme, Laoye-Tomori admonished them to fashion out what will work for their respective states and people.