Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s ambitious initiative to involve local communities in among others the fresh produce supply chain to SA National Defence Force (SANDF) units and bases is providing a positive spin-off for Reserve Force members.
That South Africa has a high unemployment rate is common knowledge with people battling to find work. One such workplace – for want of a better word – is the Reserve Force and while exact numbers are not available it is believed a large percentage of South Africa’s part-time soldiers only gainful employment is when called up.
Last year more than 15 000 Reserve Force soldiers were called up for duties varying from external deployments, specifically the UN peace support mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the national border protection tasking Operation Corona as well as short training camps and exercises.
Finding work, other than time spent in uniform, is one aspect of Project Koba-Tlala which is enjoying the attention of project leader, Brigadier General Gerhard Kamffer Chief: SA Army Reserves, and Lieutenant Colonel Philip Coetzer, a Reserve Force officer tasked with strategy and planning for the project.
Coetzer asks if the SANDF, specifically the Reserve Force, should invest in the agriculture sector. This is because food security has been identified as a crisis in Africa by the United Nations as a result of “many years of under-investment in agriculture and neglect of the sector”.
He is of the opinion young people, specifically young soldiers from “our predominantly unemployed Reserves have a big role to play in the South African agri-sector”.
“The bottom-line is the farming community in South Africa is ageing and although some young people are entering into and making a success in this sector, many still want to enter into it, but there are factors preventing them. This makes it important a strategy is developed to elevate Reserve Force members in agriculture and link them into the value chain.
“The Minister and the Secretary for Defence, Dr Sam Gulube, both mention the commitment of the South African armed forces to government’s National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 in the form of Project Koba-Tlala (which means “get rid of hunger”) in the latest performance plan of the Department of Defence.
“The project is designed to contribute to a vibrant, equitable and sustainable economy in support of food security. This makes it a good tool to support young Reserves with reskilling in the agri-sector,” Coetzer said.
Reskilling of Reserves and enterprise development are high priorities in Project Koba-Tlala. Some pilot reskilling initiatives have been launched – the most recent focussing on agri-related skills training.
During a pilot 10 day intervention 15 members of Regiment President Steyn (RPS) underwent orientation training for crop and animal production. Apart from South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) aligned skills training sessions, participants were exposed to livestock practices, as well as to industry leaders and role players.
“These Reserves were also introduced to farming activities and the daily schedules of agri-business, technical production options, harvesting, water and irrigation management, as well as soil classification and weed types and control,” Coetzer said.
Answering his own question of whether the Reserves should look to the agricultural sector for employment, Coetzer maintains “useful lessons have been learnt to date in what has to be called a small beginning”.
An RPS member on the course pointed out working with animals and plants was “not easy, but if one put’s one’s mind to it, it is can be done”.
Coetzer has a stronger view saying investment in the South African agricultural sector is a must when it comes to human capital.
Ministerial support for Project Koba-Tlala is evidenced in Mapisa-Nqakula’s introductory message in the latest edition of The Reserve Force Volunteer.
She writes: “Koba-Tlala is aligned with the country’s developmental agenda, particularly in the agriculture sector. The project is focussed on boosting small-scale and emerging farmers and SMMEs as part of the value chain. This initiative should have a footprint in all rural provinces. We intend to provide greater job prospects for the youth as well as reskilling and educating of our Reserve members”.