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Sustainable food production within the defence force

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The introduction of agriculture into the military can be traced way back in 19th century. During the decade that followed the war of 1812 between America and Britain, the military frontier proceeded the settlers frontier in the Missouri Valley, and for a time soldiers became pioneer farmers. (Nichols, 1970). In Africa, the Egyptian Army runs farming business in dairy farms, milk processing facilities, cattle feed lots, poultry and fish farms. In Southern Africa, the National Service of the Zambia Defence Forces has access to substantial areas of land, as part of food production drive. Zimbabwe was once a food basket for the region and the government s response to the continuing deterioration in national food security status was made through several Food Security initiatives. The first agriculture scheme was implemented between 2005 and 2006 and it was called Operation Maguta/Inala. The command agriculture scheme was the second agriculture scheme to be implemented in Zimbabwe after almost 10 years. In that programme, the army was given the task of tilling large amounts of land as it was during peace time and their labour was available (Businessdaily.co.zw, 2018).

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The ZNA launched a massive farming project in March 2016 in a move meant to boost food security in the country and meet the organisation s food requirements. The project under Farming Production Department (FPD), dubbed Project Sustain, was set to ease the burden on the army s reliance on government for all its needs so that the resources coming from the government are directed elsewhere in the army. The project has been launched to compliment the Zimbabwe Agenda for Socio- Sustainable Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) effort and was designed to make the organisation self-sustainable in terms of food requirements under the cluster of food and nutrition.

Researches for this paper were done through use of the internet, journals, newspaper reports and interviews in order to assess the production levels in the ZNA. Due to time constraints this paper will take 5 Bde FPD Farm as a sample. This paper is written to the Zimbabwe Staff College (ZSC) Commandant as a partial fulfilment of the Junior Staff Course. In writing this paper the author was of the assumption that the reader knows the impact of economic sanctions on productive farming and its effects towards self sustenance. The writer as well assumes that the reader is aware of Operation Maguta/Inala, Command Agriculture as well as the Champion Farmers Program. This paper seeks to discuss agriculture and food production policy frameworks in use, the challenges against the prevailing environment and make recommendations for sustainable agriculture.

ZNA farming policy framework is a logical structure that gives guidelines in farming activities as to what should be produced and by what percentage, as a guideline to the army budget expenditure. Farming operations in the ZNA were initially governed by the farming policy that is enshrined in Army Projects Policy Documents which states that amongst its daily military operations, it should acquire land for its training and agricultural activities.

Project Sustain. The Food Production Department (FPD) was set up to manage farms as a way to support the Army s agricultural or farming activities. The farming policy is further supported in the Army Projects Constitution. However, it should be noted that though policies have been made, there is still a gap on the organisation s support and commitment to farming as evidenced by the slow uptake and non-commercialisation of the farms. An example of such a policy from a national perspective is the Comprehensive Agricultural Policy Framework 2012-2032 which highlighted several challenges facing the agricultural sector, among them high production costs.

The ZNA farm establishments run by Food Production Committees (FPC) are headed by an ASO1 who is a Lt Col in rank and administered by respective Brig Comds. Most of these Comds are military commanders first and then farmers second, because they have been directed to oversee the activities. It is the writer s opinion that the tasks and responsibilities of ensuring food security within the organisation should then be tasked to independent members, as is the case in Zambia Defence Forces where the NYS has a separate Chain of Comd, mainly charged with National Tasks for Development. In such cases accountability is maintained and support is guaranteed. Notable is that the placement of most head of projects or farmlands are placed on seniority and not on knowledge basis. Thus the translation of the policy and its implantation is erratic and from an uninformed position. Therefore, the need for the policy framework to include issues to do with qualification as key to holding influential appointments should be gazetted and effected as a way to ensure sustainable agricultural growth.

Climate change and agriculture are interrelated processes, both of which take place on a global scale. Global warming is projected to have significant impacts on conditions affecting agriculture, including temperature and glacial run-off. Rising carbon dioxide levels would also have effects, both detrimental and beneficial, on crop yields. The overall effect of climate change on agriculture will depend on the balance of these effects.

Climate and Rainfall. Global warming has had a negative impact on climate as the rain season has become inconsistent thereby affecting farming productivity. The inconsistence change in the rainfall patterns has over the years affected the agricultural seasons, reducing the farming season to more of an irrigation system rather than rely on natural rainfall patterns. This is despite the fact that Battlefields falls under Region 3 where the region receives an average of 650-800mm per each rainfall season. Persistent droughts in this area have adversely affected the yield output. The 5 Bde farm s pivot system, currently covering 110 Ha is insufficient to irrigate the whole farm. The area not covered by the pivot can be utilised for high drought resistant crop farming, including fodder crop farming. According to FAO, fodder crops are crops that are cultivated primarily for animal feed.

Outsourcing can help increase farmland utilisation, in the form of cooperative arrangement or share ownership, without losing control of the produce and rewards thereafter. An example is the collaboration between 1 Bde and Higrow, though there is no direct transfer of resources but skills and knowledge in this case. Hilgrow are the Bde s advisor in their chicken rearing business. The same model, or even better can be employed at 5 bde with the external partner of tenant utilising the remaining area. This will reduce the need to invest capital into clearing the arid lands. Currently 5 Bde, which had targeted to clear 1000 Ha only managed to clear200. This is because the army has other commitments that supersede farming in most cases.

Management. Farm management is concerned with the day-to-day operation and management of an actual farm, estate, and cooperative or other farm-based produce or marketing entity. It should be understood that though the military practices bureaucratic model of management due to the nature of their job, this model of management is less popular with the farming business. In this case a direct link between the management board, management committees and the farm managers has to be established to enhance the general management and supervision of the farms. It is in this regard that the general management and supervision of these farms has greatly affected the clearance and usage which in turn affects production levels.

Organisation. Most, if not all, Army farms have been operating without qualified personnel such as veterinary doctors, agronomists, workshop foremen, and machine operators. The farms are then forced to work with a makeshift and skeleton staff, which in most cases have little farming knowledge and operating of machines like combine harvesters. Most of the personnel are then forced to become on job training cases which usually has negative effects on the equipment that is being used for the same purpose. A good example is 5 Bde FPD farm which is being managed by a field Offr, who does not possess at least a certificate in business or farm management. The ZPCS counterparts hold professional qualifications of at least a degree in business management among other agricultural qualifications.

The Army could train personnel at various institutions of higher learning in animal husbandry and agriculture. Within the service, 3 Bde Adult Education has a Skills Training Center that offers horticulture from foundation certificate up to diploma, and also short courses in livestock production covering poultry, sheep, goats, cattle, piggery, fishery, and apiculture, all required qualifications by FPD and FPC at Bde farms. However, the BEO highlighted that these courses are offered to members as a post retirement skill, with members of FPD not attending. This defeats the whole purpose as the army requires trained personnel but yet it is training soldiers as a retirement package. The notion of following the Zambian Defence forces then comes into mind, of separating the role of active soldiers from that of reserve and national service officers. That would assist in reaching the intended goal especially where the recourses are local but misemployed as in this case.

Capital. Capital is the base for a stable business entity, the injection of which may enhance productivity. Capital is money that an investor uses to start or expand a business or vice versa money that a business needs to start or expand. Like any other business farming thrives on a sound financial system. Funding is required in all sections of farming. Areas such as inputs, labour, machinery, maintenance cost, developments and improvements on the land require huge funding. Capital to meet the above mentioned requirements has been a major contributor in under productivity in all Army farms, whose funding has been very little considering what is required for commercial farms to be viable.

Funding. Ideally the Army should make a provision from its budget to fund farming activities or increase the capacity levels at its garrison shops to raise enough of the required funds. Lack of funding has left farming business in a limbo as little positive growth is being registered through the little funds that are being made available for farming operations. It should be noted that all commercial farms throughout the country have managed to survive most of the negative effects towards productivity through a broad and firm financial base which are either provided by the government as loans and honest partners. Notably, 5 Bde Farm was funded through the Command Agriculture and Financial institutions, that need to be paid back after harvest. To enhance productivity ZNA should have a budget allocation for farms, seek partnerships or increase the operation capacity at its garrison shops to avail the much needed funds.

Resources. Use of a water irrigation system may also prove to be of great use as crop farming can be done all year round rather than rely on the October to January farming season. Capital investment is the way to go if meaningful production is to be realised in these farms. It is therefore recommended that the Army should source for more funds to purchase farm implements to equip most of its farms. Such an improvement will provide a strong base for a stable rise in production. The need for a security fence was once highlighted by the CDF when he last visited the Brigade. An Electric Fence to ward of stray and wild animals could suffice on the perimeter while wire for paddocking would keep animals in a designated locality until next paddock rotation.

Investment in Machinery. Investment in machinery has proved to be the most noble and great achievement in reducing labour costs in commercial farms. A close analysis into the use of machinery such as combine harvesters, planters and boom sprays play equally a more significant role in lessening the demand on human labour. Employment of combine harvesters has seen the employment of only 2 people in direct contrast to a possible 100 people for the same job. Employment of such equipment or machinery in place of the manual system is very vital as it also ensure that time spent in the field activities such as weeding, spraying, and applying fertilisers is reduced to a minimum.

A viable farm operation depends on a sound policy framework. The policy framework should provide a platform for both management and funding of ZNA farms. The organisation should thrive to make funds available for both inputs and machinery for the farms as modernisation is the way to go.

The environment with its factors such as soil, rainfall, climate, and geographical set up has a direct bearing towards agricultural productivity. Thus an irrigation system should be used to address the deficiency in the natural rainfall pattern.

Service personnel must be seconded to attend other agricultural courses for them to gain experience of new agricultural concepts. The ZNA should source for potential farming partnership or make a budget allocation for farms. Members should be sent to attend agricultural courses and seminars. Supervision on farming operations must generally be increased. Employ more casual labourers to augment the number of employees at the farm.

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