First harvest from Fort Ikapa Koba-Tlala vegetable garden

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What started over five years ago as an effort to create gainful employment for part-time soldiers whose only income came from call-ups has now seemingly become a project embraced by the landward force of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

4 Logistic Support Unit of the SA Army Support Formation is based at Cape Town’s Fort Ikapa and at the beginning of this year took the first vegetable harvest from a garden set up as per the Project Koba-Tlala blueprint, the handiwork of Brigadier General Gerhard Kamffer and his team.

“The motivation for starting the garden was to look into food security and the idea is to get the garden to a point where it can sustain Reserve Force members as well as some veterans and later involve women in community. The Koba-Tlala project is now a success and has produced many vegetables with input and care of unit members,” Private Pearl Zubane of the SA Army Support Formation reported. She makes the point that the Fort Ikapa garden is “part of Koba-Tlala that is supported by the whole SA Army through different projects”.

From humble origins, the Koba-Tlala concept evolved into what will become a production brigade supplying fresh produce to military messes nationally.

Last May Kamffer told Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) he saw Koba-Tlala evolving into a unit which will supply, primarily fresh produce, to the overall national defence force as part of a self-sustainability drive.

As of mid-last year Koba-Tlala had re- and upskilled over 1 400 Reserve Force soldiers from various musterings in the basics of vegetable growing and production with another 800 plus part-time soldiers due to be added by end of the current financial year. Apart from agriculture-related skills, including vegetable production and animal husbandry, the Reserve Force men and women are taught the how’s and why’s of community development, water and sanitation supply and reticulation, first aid and security.

Project Koba-Tlala is one of two defence projects contributing to government’s National Development Plan (NDP), which aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. The other is the military skills development (MSD) system which sees around two thousand recruits entering the ranks of the four SANDF services for a two-year period. Financial pressure means there will no longer be an annual intake of MSDs, with future intakes once every two years. The next intake is scheduled for 2024.

A February 2022 CSANDF and Military Command Council (MCC) decision has it “Project Koba-Tlala is approved in its current configuration for the short term FY22/23 whilst a plan is drafted to transform it into a Production Brigade which will serve to support sustainment of the SANDF in the outer years of the current MTEF (medium term expenditure framework) from FY2024/2025”.

Examples of operational Koba-Tlala developments are the Sakhulwazi women’s hub at Philippi and farmer urban network in Western Cape; the General Botha Regiment vegetable garden in Mpumalanga’s Barberton; establishing the Marievale agri-village and agricultural training centre in Gauteng in conjunction with the provincial government; farming on defence land with two farms identified as potential pilot opportunities in North West and Free State; interaction with Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA) on Mantusini dairy farm and vegetable farming at Infantry School in Oudtshoorn.