By Staff Reporter

Currently, the Marievale project has entered the 2022/2023 harvesting phase, marking the end of the present production period. Itcontinues to supply most of its produce to Spar Selcourt, military base residents and the beneficiaries’ customers within the local community.

A 1-hectare parcelof land has been designated to SANDF trainees, gearing up for the 2022/2023 production period which is due to start in September 2023. At Marievale, 70% of the three-hectare land parcel prepared for open-field production is nearing completion. A 60x40m netted shed structure stands fully erected, with minor operations like ridge digging to secure the nets yet to be completed.

Thanks to the public-public partnership between SANDF and theGauteng’s Department of Agriculture and the Department of Social Development, an agronomist has been recruited to prepare for programme expansion and offer professional production guidance. To this point, Marievale’s production has catered to onsite consumption and off-take from other Southern Gauteng Messes and nearby private sector operators, such as the Spar shopping centre.

Open field production projections and income generated to date
Spinach: 4960 Cabbage: 5436 Mustard Spinach: 5000 Onions: 9900 Beetroot: 8396 Coriander:
2500 
Rocket:2500 
Revenue to date R95593.75

Production at the Marievale Site 

Adverse winter conditions have significantly affected the expectedyields, size and volumes of crops planted at the Marievale office site. Late planting during the 2022/2023 production season resulted incrops showing signs of climate-induced stress, such as frost and freeze damage. All the crops planted in open field production have been most affected by the challenges mentioned above. However, crops planted under shade net structures are of slightly better quality and size, displaying well-formed buds with minimal to moderate damage compared to the cabbages in open-field production areas. This will directly influence the projected income from crop production.

Harvesting

The Marievale Project is now in the income-generating phase of the season, encompassing the full harvest of the crop. It is transitioning away from the 2021/2022 crops that have suffered from agronomic issues such as acidic soils, severe frost and freeze damage. The most impacted crops were spinach and cabbage, leading to stunted growth, lower yields and quality beneath expectations. To limit substantial financial losses and prevent wastage, beneficiaries have, as part of market access effort, engaged in marketing the products to local community members and conducting market analysis and research. The produce is being distributed to the informal market and sold to street hawkers and individuals within their respective communities. Produce is sold within a 16-20km radius of the Marievale production site at the following prices:

Spinach bunches @ R10.00; Cabbage heads @ R10.00; Coriander 30g @ R7.00; Beetroot 1kg @ R10.00; Spring Onions 1kg @ R10.00 

Total revenue to date: R9 200.00 

Marievale Cash Sales 

Chopped Spinach 600g @ R5.00; Chopped Cabbage @ R5.00, 

Rocket 60g @ R7.50 

As a strategy to derive profit from crop production affected by agronomic challenges, value is being added to the crops through agro-processing. At the Marievale project site, agro-processing involves chopping spinach and cabbage into 600g portions.

Military members are also purchasing spinach in bulk for their personal use. The spinach is packaged, sealed and sold in 600g bags at R5.00 each. Beetroot has been harvested and phased out and sold in 1kg bags at R10.00 each. The informal market has the highest demand for beetroot given the current volumes produced at Marievale. At present, the project does not meet the specifications and volumes required to service the commercial markets.

Spar Selcourt, situated 10km from the production site, is the project’s primary client within the formal markets. Marievale consistently supplies Spar Selcourt with 600g chopped portions of spinach, full cabbage heads, spring onions, and requested quantities of beetroot.

However, as with the cabbages sold in the informal market, the 600g chopped portions of cabbage have not been as successful as the full heads. Spar has also requested a price reduction to R7.00 per cabbage head because of the size of the cabbages. The harvest of these crops will take place from mid-August to September 2022, preparing for the 2022/2023 production season. The progress, timely harvest, and preparation for the new season will heavily depend on budget constraints.

Rocket and coriander herbs, planted in late May 2022, are ready for harvest and sale. Beneficiaries have taken samples to prospective buyers in the local market to assess demand and develop their business acumen. Rocket herb will be sold in 60g bags for R7.50 each, and coriander herb will be sold at R7.00 for 30g per bag.

The supermarket will stock ten of each herb on their shelves to evaluate customer demand. The project will supply as many herbs as possible, depending on the reception from Spar Selcourt. The operations team will further discuss whether the supermarket might be interested in stocking the rest of the produce grown at Marievale.

Beneficiary attendance

Despite the informal formation of cooperatives, commitments from the respective cooperative members regarding attendance and dedication have been inconsistent. It is only the SANDF military members and the GDSD Marievale Cooperative that consistently attend training and onsite practicals at Marievale.

Strategically, the SANDF not only achieves the national government’s goals through military operations executed according to its core mandate, but also through Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTWA), such as the contributions made by Project KOBA-TLALA.

Considering current budget cuts and questions around continuous spending on the Defence Force in peacetime, the current Chief of SANDF has instructed that Project KOBA-TLALA evolves to a higher level of self-sustainability and maintains collaboration with society from a dialectical perspective.

In 2022, the Chief of SANDF approved a concept that integrates Project KOBA-TLALA into a Production Brigade to support the SANDF’s sustainability.

An Integrated Project Team was established at the SANDF level, and the following sub-capabilities were identified for further development:

Agri-related capabilities on underutilised Defence Force land: 

• Meat production (stock farming, poultry production, pork production)

• Utilising the potential of the excess game (game farming)

• Utilising available arable land and agricultural assets to develop crop/vegetable farming.

Manufacturing Capability:

• Establishing best practice production capabilities to manufacture SANDF military uniforms, boots, and tracksuits

• Establishing a capability to assemble and pack ration packs

• Solar energy.

In this context, the Production Brigade aims to leverage the substantial food procurement expenditure among other resources, reskill its members for self-sustainability, and establish capabilities akin to other African Production Brigades. This is done to engage its members in tasks of national importance, such as food production, and to integrate emerging and small-scale farmers, primarily in areas where the SANDF has a footprint, into the mainstream economy.

The value propositions for the Production Brigade Agri Village will, therefore, be structured around the identification of commodities, products, location, potential public and private partners, social mobilisation, value chain linkages, funding sources, a governance model, and a budget. These factors are all deemed critical to the project’s success.

Crucially, an assessment of each Marievale area’s comparative advantages in terms of agriculture will guide the development of the Military Agri Village. This assessment will also inform the benchmarking exercise that has been initiated to technically instruct the SANDF Production Brigade’s implementation plan, as well as the required structure and experts.

With the recent benchmark visit conducted in Zambia, the concept of a “Force for Good” and engaging in Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTWA) has affirmed the foresight of the Chief of SANDF in establishing a Production Brigade within the SANDF. This vision contributes to the sustainability of the Defence Force and South Africa’s key strategic reserves, including energy, food, water, etc. The Zambian National Service (ZNS), besides training its citizens to serve the Republic of Zambia and employ them in tasks of national importance, has progressively expanded to:

1. Production (Agriculture, Livestock, and Industrial Production)

2. Land Development

3. Small Scale Industry

These pillars have positioned the Zambian National Force (through its ZNS) as a key player in the government’s developmental thrust, thus establishing it as a strategic developmental force. 

In the next article, we will delve into the details of the Zambian benchmarking.