Brian Kiplimo Rono was in Meru to meet his in-laws in November 2017 when the call from BLAZE Be Your Own Boss came.
He had gone for the mega auditions earlier in the month and then gone back to his life, running his potato farm in Lembus in Baringo and was waiting to see whether an opportunity to work with the County Governor Stanley Kiptis would come through.
Brian had gone for the BLAZE Be Your Own Boss (BLAZE BYOB) auditions on the advice of a friend who knew about the farm he had in Lembus, a fertile and productive place about 70 kilometres from Eldoret.
He was shortlisted for the Creation Camp and went for the two-day boot camp at Eldoret Sports Club. He came in second in the agriculture section, missing out on the Ksh100,000 prize, but the judges, Sylvia Tonui and Caleb Karuga saw his potential and urged him to audition for the TV competition.
“I didn’t even know we’d audition for the TV at that time so I went, auditioned, and left,” he recalled.
In Meru, when the excitement of the call had settled and the reality of the opportunity ahead became clearer for him, the man who had had to set aside his political ambitions after losing the Jubilee Party nominations for MCA earlier in the year made a decision.
“I told my family, this is the one chance, the one opportunity in life that I can’t let go. I got up and said, I have to do this. I have been through two years of tarmacking. I told them, you have to give me these three months and see how far I can go.”
He says he literally dropped everything, including minding his potato farm, when he made the decision to travel to Nairobi for the BYOB TV show, and recalls that he went home to his wife and little girl only twice during that period.
The Actuarial Science graduate and former student leader at Eldoret University would go from feeling alienated and underestimated to an automatic choice for group leader and when he survived the first and second elimination rounds, he realised that he actually stood a chance of winning.
The man who had told the judges he would be happy to be known as ‘The Waru Guy’ would also employ his wizardry with mathematics and his business experience and become ‘The Maths Guy’ in the groups, with some of his colleagues describing him as a born leader.
He would emerge as the face of the Kenyan farmer, dismissing the notion that the average Kenyan farmer is over 60 years old and a good example of the young, educated individuals who make up 22 percent of the farming population in the country.
The fact that he did not come from the city would also turn out to be an advantage for Brian, making him work harder and perhaps giving him the focus he needed.
Brian would later describe his strategy as the rather simple approach: ‘Take every step when it comes.’
Seven months after the BYOB grand finale, where he received Ksh5 million as the winner of this year’s show and spoke of the weight of responsibility he felt on his shoulders, Brian feels he is well on his way to great things.
Brian’s project was to drill a borehole and to install a drip irrigation system in the farm. The challenge, he says, has been that the rains lasted longer than usual, and are forecasted to last until December, rendering irrigation redundant.
He instead focused on increasing the acreage of the farm under potatoes and has now taken it to seven acres from little over an acre, which also included taking up his mother’s two acres. He plans to have 10 acres under potatoes by February if his elder brother reduces his herd of cattle.
“The farm was lying idle and I realised it was a resource which can help. Once you have land and you now have access to money, those are two resources that can help you sort out certain serious business,” he said.
Instead of a borehole he settled on constructing a dam, since a stream runs through the farm, and installing a hydram pump, a type of cyclic water pump powered by the water’s own force, that can then help fulfill his initial proposal.
He is also considering diversifying into growing kales and carrots and establishing a crisps factory.
Potatoes are extremely perishable and bulky. Processing them into crisps increases their value and means that the farmer no longer has to rush them to the market and suffer the effects of the volatile prices and creates jobs as well.
“The problem with potato farming is the price fluctuations,” he said, explaining that just three weeks before the interview, the percentage profit from potato farming fell from 300 percent to 70 percent as the prices fell from Ksh4,500 per bag to Ksh1,000.
Still, it is a good business and he calculates that on average, one can make a profit of Ksh50,000 per acre every three months, and it does not need to be a full-time commitment for the farmer.
By his estimation, Brian is at 70 percent of implementing his plan.
With his achievements on the farm and the plans he has for the future, Brian has ruled out practicing actuarial science despite the many sleepless nights studying it in school.
He also developed the opinion that the insurance sector in Kenya is too small. He uses the lessons learnt to guide his work, even on the farm, where he practices managing risk and creating an insurance of his own even as he seeks to make money.
He has in his sights a Masters of Business Administration, more diversification by setting up an entertainment establishment and then seeking an opportunity for collaboration with the Baringo County Government to pass on to the youth the advice and expertise he has gathered throughout his life’s journey so far.
For now, he says, BYOB gave him a way to work towards his goal and he can confidently say, “I want to be a successful businessman.”