For as long as he can remember, Renardo Stone has been passionate about agriculture.
That’s why he decided to formalise his interest by pursuing studies at the College of Agriculture Science and Education (CASE) to prepare for a professional career in pig production, with plans to eventually become a veterinarian or an animal technician.
‘Initially, I was more in favour of goats,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
“I usually plant pumpkin, red peas, callaloo, string beans and corn in my family’s backyard. One morning while tending to my goats, I saw this huge boar on the wall and it was right in time for feeding. That awakened my curiosity towards the animals because with the little that I knew at the time, I could not believe that a pig could be that big. So just by seeing that I wanted to learn more about them and to see how they transform from being so small to being so big, in such a short period,” he continued.
When his mother passed away, Stone, then 15, worked on a pig farm to help support himself and six siblings.
“With no father present before and after our mother’s death, the intention was to split us up — but we as a unit decided to stay together,” he said, adding that relatives did provide some supervision and financial support.
“However, I still wanted to have enough money to buy what I needed for myself without asking for money all the time. Therefore, what I did was to work by the pig unit every morning before I went to school because, at the time, I was on the evening shift — giving me enough time during the morning to get sanitation done at the unit and to get ready for school.
“I did this for the remaining time I had left in high school and through this small income venture, I managed to support myself. The motivation that I experienced on a daily basis allowed me to earn an award for the top-performing student for agriculture at my graduation in 2012,” Stone told Career & Education.
He recently completed an Associate of Science in General Agriculture at CASE, and is now pursuing a bachelor’s in animal science.
As he tells it, his interest stemmed in part from the fact that members of his family in Comfort District, from which he hails, have been involved in agriculture over the years.
“I have uncles who are involved in crop production but not on a large scale, as well as a cousin who is involved in livestock farming. I was terrified at first, but by slowly adapting to the husbandry practices that are done on a daily basis and the other things such as feeding and performing various activities like post-natal care, I became comfortable around them. This helped me to overcome my fears and it was the beginning of how my passion for pigs developed,” he explained.
He continued: “Pigs are extraordinarily intelligent. They are curious and insightful animals who are widely accepted as being smarter than young children of at least three years of age, dogs, and even some primates. Pigs are extremely sociable animals and they form close bonds with other individuals and love close contact and lying down together.”
Worked on the pig farm also helped him gain valuable experience.
At the age of 20, Stone worked as farm supervisor at Kezmar Organic Farm, nestled in the small farming community of Madras in St Ann.
“My employer was Miss Marsha Smith, the CEO of the farm. Initially, I was working alone and did all the duties as it related to the upkeep and the continuous development of the facility. I did everything to maintain a high standard of farm operation,” he told the Observer.
He spoke about his contribution in transforming the farm into a successful operation.
“When I first got there the condition was nothing to bare but the greatest thing is that the CEO listened to my opinions and tried to make what I suggested work for her. There weren’t any nipple drinkers for the animals and they had to give them water from buckets and each time that they did that, the water kept turning over causing a mess and a lot of waste. The number of animals went down to 19 in a unit with a holding capacity of about 80 animals at the time,” he reported.
So he set about improving the operations, from aesthetics, the watering system, sanitation and the overall farm hygiene.
“Afterwards, I asked for different breeds inside the unit and more gilt to work with. At the time, funds were low so I had no choice but to work with the scrub animals that I had. I dewormed them, gave them vitamins and had them receiving the right quantity of ration daily, with a free-flowing watering system which I designed with a gravity glow from 50 gallon drums through the unit,” said Stone.
He added: “I selected the best from the 19 that I had and I started to do test runs in order to get the right litter size and also make the environment convenient for piglets to survive in. After a few trials, I managed to perfect the art and created a system where I would have at least two sows farrowing every week with filtering the stock that we purchased from other facility. In less than a year, I moved the numbers from 19 to 108. It wasn’t a huge facility but it was performing way beyond its holding capacity and that influenced the construction of new pens for finishing and fattening.”
That success, coupled with the streatgy he used to overcome the ficinacial difficulty left by his mother’s passing, has made Stone a believer that “nothing will work if you don’t work towards it”.
Now 24, Stone is among 12 young people Nutramix has named its Youth in Agriculture ambassadors for 2019. They are featured on a glossy calendar which highlights their success stories. He shared what the accolade means to him.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for me to develop my interpersonal skills and most importantly to get the opportunity to spread the message about the good that can come from agriculture. It signifies that one has to remain focused and dedicated towards what you are passionate about,” he said.
“Agriculture matters to the future of development. Agriculture is up to four times more effective than other sectors in reducing poverty. Increasingly, the world is counting on agriculture to produce nutritious food for and to improve the livelihoods of a booming population, especially the poor. Jobs and opportunities are readily available within this sector and it is the easiest to be employed because you can work for yourself. In addition, with the growing rate of the world’s population there will be a high demand for food which is a vital resource for human survival,” the young man argued, positioning the importance of agriculture to food and job security.
The 24-year-old is also keen on the use of technology in agricultural applications, arguing that “knowledge is the key towards a prosperous future and to maintain a sustainable economy”.
The nutramix Youth in Agriculture calendar is a continuation of the company’s efforts, in keeping with its mandate, to give a voice to hard-working Jamaicans in agriculture. Last year the focus was women in agriculture.