Oak Harbor's Ronald Overmyer Volunteered to Help Farmers in Mozambique

| Sheri Trusty

This article was originally written by Sheri Trusty and published by the Port Clinton News Herald.

OAK HARBOR - Ronald Overmyer of Oak Harbor, Ohio, who grew up on a farm in Fremont and was Ottawa County’s first full-time 4-H agent, made his second agricultural advisory trip to Mozambique in October 2017.

Overmyer returned to Africa as a volunteer consultant to view the progress that has been made since his first trip in 2014 and to offer further suggestions to the Samora Machel Farmer Association, a marketing association which serves rural farmers. Overmyer’s trip was made possible by the Farmer-to-Farmer program which is funded by U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID).

“The Farmer-to-Farmer program leverages the expertise of U.S. farmers, researchers, and agribusiness professionals as volunteers to provide technical assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs across the globe,” he said.

The Samora Machel Farmer Association serves rural corn and soybean farmers who sell to large buyers. During his first trip, Overmyer spoke with association leadership about the importance of branding and the need for a warehouse to improve the quality of their processing operations.

"To put things in perspective, it is imperative to remember that most of these members are subsistence farmers with limited resources." Ronald Overmyer, on farmers in Mozambique.

When Overmyer arrived on his return trip to Mozambique, he discovered a new warehouse with the association’s brand displayed on its walls.“One of the things we talked about was developing a logo and slogan. We developed a trademark for them: ‘Quality, Honesty, Responsibility,’” Overmyer said. “I was also raising questions about their need for a warehouse. It’s not just a matter of building a building, but maintaining the grain in good condition for the buyer. They deal with mold, bacteria, insects and rodents.”

“One of the most memorable moments on this assignment was seeing their newly acquired slogan and logo inscribed on the walls of a new grain warehouse,” he said. “It’s quite an achievement to build a building like that and advance the association.”

While in Mozambique, Overmyer addressed new challenges the association faced, including defining the formal benefits and responsibilities of members. Overmyer wrote a rough draft that would eventually become a written synopsis that would be distributed to farmers.

He also helped develop procedures to address the problem of collecting annual association dues from the farmers. The association generates funds two ways: through dues and through loans, which consist of giving a farmer a bag of seed at the beginning of the planting season. At harvest time, the farmer is required to return two bags of seed to the association as loan payment.

“As with any group, once you give someone money, it’s hard to get it back,” Overmyer said. “To put things in perspective, it is imperative to remember that most of these members are subsistence farmers with limited resources.”

Overmyer worked with association leadership to update the payment policy to ensure the funds are available to continue the association’s work.

“Members pay dues to support the association, so they can support the farmers,” he said.

Another issue Overmyer addressed during the trip was the development of rules of use for a tractor and tillage tool that the association received through a USAID grant. Faced with the challenge of one tractor and 17,000 farmer members, it was imperative to create procedures for use and maintenance. 

Overmyer said the farmers tend between 5 and 10 acres of cropland each. Currently, the work is done entirely by hand. Farmers with larger tracts hire laborers to hoe the land, and farmers with smaller plots are helped by family members. The association plans to hire tractor drivers who will travel from farm to farm to plow land for those willing and able to pay for the service.

Overmyer taught the association how to calculate the cost per acre to operate and maintain the tractor, which in turn was used to calculate the cost charged to the farmer for its service. Farmers would then have the information needed to decide if renting the equipment was financially wise.

During his time in Africa, Overmyer recognized the strength of the Mozambique farmers, regardless of their limited resources. He said they have a strong desire to learn and improve themselves.

“I would like to follow up with them and help them take the next step they want to take,” he said.

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