South Africa’s soldiers have been tasked to assist not only with rural development but also to be meaningful contributors to the National Development Plan (NDP).
This has taken shape in the form of Project Koba-Tlala which is progressing well, according to Brigadier General Gerhard Kamffer, Director Army Reserves, who is the project director. The name means “fighting hunger” in Setswana and was chosen by South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Solly Shoke.
A steering committee has been set up between the SA Army, as the SANDF’s main executor of the project, and READ (North West Department of Rural Environment and Agricultural Development).
In conjunction with North West province, a number of projects have been identified as far as the overall spectrum of rural development is concerned. These include linking agri-parks with decentralised procurement initiatives as well as negotiations with organised agriculture in the province, described as “positive” by Kamffer.
Involving Agri-NW will enhance co-operation between commercial and small-scale emerging farmers. This is also seen as being beneficial down the line when decentralised procurement becomes reality as it will assist with continuous supplies of agricultural produce for use as military rations.
Another important part of the project in terms of the NDP is skilling and re-skilling of not only Reserve Force members but also civilians enabling them to contribute on the debit side of the national ledger rather than just be an onus on the national fiscus. In North West this aspect of the project has already seen a co-operative established. In addition to the skills aspect the co-op also works on finding employment.
The community development and liaison course will see Reserve Force members utilised by provincial governments when not on military call-up. They can assist other departments and municipalities in facilitating rural and other development initiatives.
To date this part of Koba-Tlala has seen 67 Reserve Force members trained at seven units in five provinces.
April this year saw a start on commercialisation of military messes in North West to realise local procurement, particularly of fresh produce. Kamffer sees the commercialisation opening the door to decentralising the purchase and control of rations. This is currently confined to the Potchefstroom area of the province where the Koba-Tlala pilot project is operational.
Earlier this year, while on a visit to Operation Corona border protection units and camps, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula indicated she would like to see rural communities in Mpumalanga as part of the ration supply chain to bases in the province.
Kamffer gave the example of the military base at Thohoyandou in Limpopo where the annual spend on food is in the region of R40 million. “A lot of this can and should go to local farmers who are battling to survive,” he said at a recent Chief of the Army briefing.
The involvement of South Africa’s top soldier, Shoke, in the project has already seen him personally meet with organised agriculture, represented by AgriSA, on two occasions.