The introduction of agribusiness development concept to secondary schools in Africa was inspired by a youth organization in Bukavu (DRC), Newday Afrika, specialized in promoting agriculture education. Since 2017, IITA has been working with this organization in some schools in Bukavu to train and empower students to change their mindset towards a positive vision of agriculture as a business and employment opportunity.
Much of the impact of this youth organization was realized during the 2017-2018 school academic year when 603 young people from secondary schools were involved in the agribusiness development project. As a result of project activities, 33 pupils-initiated agricultural enterprises involved in rabbit, guinea pig and poultry production, and horticulture. Participating students receive some of the school’s best grades. Most of these students remain committed to continue in agriculture, even those advancing to the university level.
IITA has realized that this category of young people is at a critical stage in deciding livelihood paths with strong implications towards agricultural transformation. Hence, the need to expose them to viable and sustainable opportunities inherent agriculture, while building their capacity to harness them well. The IITA Director General recognized this shortcoming and framed the Catch Them Early approach, later reframed as “Start Them Early Program (STEP)”, and commissioned an advance team in Ibadan in October 2018.
This will leverage on the success recorded in previous school engagements and through lessons learnt from the youth-in-agribusiness initiative (IYA) that started in 2012. STEP is preceded by the Agripreneurs Movement (IYA) that focuses upon under-engaged university graduates. IYA approaches did not consider younger youth, including minors, and directing them toward careers in agriculture.
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 toward careers in modern farming, agribusiness and initiate the core of new African agribusiness leaders. This will be done through 3 major agribusiness development mechanisms;
- Coursework in a formal curricular setting,
- Establishment of an extracurricular club, and
- Operations of pilot agribusiness enterprises committed to experiential learning
The project has a very strong component on research and is intended to gain a better understanding and gather evidence on the role of agribusiness opportunities offered to students within secondary schools. As such, MSc research will complement the project’s immediate developmental applications.
Provide the basic understanding for better directing secondary schools and their students toward careers in modern farming, agribusiness and agro-industry, and initiate the core of a new African agribusiness club movement similar to those providing direction to youth elsewhere in the world.
- Understand gender differentiated aspirations of young people, their attitudes towards agriculture and how this influences their career choices.
- Evaluate the capacities of secondary schools in different countries and settings to advance instruction and extracurricular activities related to agribusiness development and develop models for different rural settings.
- Test a model of vocational curricula and youth-led clubs devoted to agribusiness development and monitor their impacts.
- Establish a network of youth-led pilot agribusiness enterprises and monitor their development and impacts on changing youth attitudes towards agriculture.
- Build capacity to document and scale out lessons from the research to other stakeholders and schools (to inform curriculum development) in the three target countries and beyond.
The STEP Training approaches include: Course Work, Pilot Incubation Enterprise, Extracurricular Activities, ICT application in agriculture, and Mechanized farming. Interventions within these approaches are based on the learning gaps found in the National Agricultural Science/School Curriculums of the three different Countries. STEP identified these as; the use of crude implements which promote drudgery and make Agriculture unattractive to young people, Agriculture being used as a form of punishment, inadequate exposure of students on the profitable opportunities along the value chains, insufficient soft skills to enhance and support the hard skills taught. In general, the mismatch between the curriculum and the needs of the students and those of the labor market.
The STEP Implementation Plan was designed by STEP-Country teams in Nigeria, Kenya, and DR Congo, and the Office of the Director-General of IITA. This document contains the STEP model, which offers secondary school students’ the opportunity to better understand and develop business opportunities through participating in coursework, extra-curricular clubs, and incubating pilot enterprises; these are the three agribusiness mechanisms.
It is research-based through investigations into the key questions, but at the same time conducted in an iterative, problem-solving manner based upon the unfolding opportunities and demands from the schools and student participants.
The document also contains the five key thematic strategies of STEP: Training Strategy, Communication Strategy, Digital Support Strategy, Gender Strategy, and Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning, upon which the program operations in each of the three countries are based.
The Training Strategy includes approaches outlined for Course Work, Pilot Incubation Enterprise, Extracurricular Activities, ICT application in agriculture, and Mechanized farming. Interventions within these approaches are based on the learning gaps found in the National Agricultural Science/School Curriculums of the three different countries.
The Communication Strategy developed key principles and approaches the project will follow to set up and continuously improve both its internal and external communications. The Gender Strategy has provided means of guiding the team on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of young women and contains processes to follow to engage both young men and women in learning and ensuring participation.