Farmers, pupils and parents are smiling in Osun State following the success of the government school feeding scheme. TUNDE BUSARI reports
Although the O’ meal scheme, an Osun State Government initiative to feed public elementary school pupils was conceptualised as a lifeline to students and their parents, farmers in the state have, since, reaped bountifully from the gains of the scheme.
Started in 2006 as one of the 13 pilot states including Federal Capital Territory, the scheme has elevated Osun State to a model among other states of the federation as pupils from kindergarten to primary four 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.
Consequently, it has generated jobs and economic empowerment for the jobless, while the small and medium scale enterprises have also witnessed an unprecedented reactivation.
Nigerian Tribune findings revealed that on a weekly basis, no fewer than 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 well over 400 metric tonnes of fish regularly for the school feeding while 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. The number has risen to over 15,000.
The success of the feeding programme has drawn some delegates from 35 states including the Federal Capital Territory to the state during which the Deputy Governor, who doubles as commissioner for education, Mrs. Grace Titilayo Laoye-Tomori, addressed them.
Laoye-Tomori, who directly supervises the implementation of the school feeding, explained that the Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola administration extended the beneficiaries of the school feeding programme in 2012 to primary four and rechristened it Osun School Feeding and Health Programme (O-Meals) adding that the real impact of the programme cuts across many sectors.
disclosed that the state governments free meals had impacted positively on school enrollment from 155,318 to 194,253 after four weeks of its implementation.
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 revealed.
The deputy-governor added that through the programme, the state was able to capture the actual figures of school pupils being fed under the programme costing the government a sum of N18million per week.
She said a total of 3,007 food vendors were engaged, train, kitted with uniforms and made to undergo medical screening. The vendors, she said, were given loan in kind for cooking utensils and organised into 124 functional cooperative investment and credit societies for effective administrative purposes.
Mrs. Laoye-Tomori noted that the success of the programme has attracted compliments and accolades from both local and international fora. In 2014, for instance, the British Parliament invited the State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola to talk on the implementation of the school feeding programme after which the parliament gave it an ovation.