The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) development programme Project Koba-Tlala moved into a previously uncharted area of food production which, because it is based on hydroponics, has good potential for commercialisation.
Koba-Tlala is driven by the Director, Army Reserves, Brigadier General Gerhard Kamffer for the national defence force. The project is seen as part of the force’s contribution to government’s nine point National Development Plan.
Areas it is currently working in include providing training for Reserves in the security sector, community work and agriculture, whether on domestic or larger scale.
This aspect of Koba-Tlala has gone a step further than the accepted method of using soil as a growing medium and was recently inaugurated by two Free State Reserve Force units – regiments President Steyn and Bloemspruit.
A week-long course concentrating on the basics of hybrid hydroponics was run for 18 part-time soldiers. “They are now equipped to return to their communities and put this skill into action as far as self-sufficiency in vegetable production is concerned,” project officer Lieutenant Colonel Philip Coetzer said.
There are hopes the hydroponic skillset will be transferred to the soldiers’ families and the wider community. This, if properly managed by the community, could generate income from growing, processing and selling the fresh produce.
On the thinking behind Koba-Tlala, Coetzer said a large number of the more than eleven thousand volunteer members of the Army Reserves are among millions of South Africans, either unemployed or with part-time work. They only earn an income when called up for service which could be a border protection deployment or continental deployment as part of the UN mission in the DR Congo.
Explaining the involvement of the military in the National Development Plan Kamffer said one of the major challenges facing South Africa is upskilling citizens.
“Not only in formalised academic training situations but also at other levels which require investment for training instructors, training facilities and support systems to develop and manage learning material and administer courses.
“The SANDF has all that in place,” Kamffer said adding it has been training soldiers for many year and is now investigating a model to expand training from soldiering skills to other areas. This will in time see Reserve Force soldiers learn civilian skills and how to apply them.
“Project Koba-Tlala, in Tswana literally get rid of hunger, is a development project approved by the Department of Defence. It is driven by the Director Army Reserves on behalf of the SANDF and at its aim is to provide its part-time soldiers with civilian skills that are ‘portable’, even when the members are not in uniform.”
The first hybrid hydroponic course at Tempe, Bloemfontein, will be fully evaluated post-course and over a period of time to determine suitability. If successful it can be rolled out to other centres where the national defence force has a footprint, Coetzer said.