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Country profile - Kenya


Kenya has one of the most developed economies in Africa, with relatively well-developed agricultural sectors and substantial agricultural foreign exchange earnings. But key underlying challenges remain, including corruption, conflict, poverty, a rising population and climate change.


Kenya's population has tripled over the past 30 years and over 20 per cent of the population live in urban areas, with the UN predicting this will double by 2045. Almost half of the population live in poverty and 30 per cent are malnourished, but the highest poverty levels are in the arid pastoralist districts in the north where 80-95 per cent of people live below the poverty line. Here, insecurity is a growing threat, as is conflict between neighbouring and cross-border communities over increasingly limited water and pasture resources.

Agriculture employs more than two-thirds of the population, and there is growing demand for agricultural produce in urban areas, but many smallscale farmers struggle to get their produce to the markets that will help them earn enough to support their families. TechnoServe is one organisation that is helping farmers produce higher-value products, creating jobs and increasing incomes. In 2003, TechnoServe began organising banana farmers into groups, equipping them with business skills and training them in simple techniques to improve production, harvesting and handling. And by linking the producer groups to banana wholesalers, farmers' incomes have subsequently risen by 50-100 per cent.

Kenya's informal milk sector dominates the milk marketing chain (WRENmedia)
Kenya's informal milk sector dominates the milk marketing chain

With 800,000 smallscale farmers and 350,000 smallscale milk vendors, Kenya's informal milk sector dominates the milk marketing chain. Research conducted as part of the Smallholder Dairy Project, supported by DFID, revealed the economic and nutritional significance of the informal milk sector. As a result, the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development updated dairy regulations in 2004, enabling smallscale milk traders to gain licenses and to enroll for training in milk handling, processing and marketing. The economy has benefitted by about US$33 million annually.

From sugar snap peas to flowers, 1,000 tonnes of fresh produce worth US$3 million is exported every day. Kenya is also the third largest exporter of tea in the world. By meeting international standards, such as GlobalGAP, the horticulture industry has been able to target lucrative markets, particularly in the European Union. These standards enhance market access and assure customers of the quality and safety of the produce and environmental care during production.

In 2006, the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) developed a set of globally-recognised standards for smallscale fruit, vegetable and flower producers. Subsequently, KenyaGAP has qualified as the first national scheme incorporating smallscale farmers to acquire GlobalGAP equivalence. As the countries in the region come closer to trade integration, standardisation of practice and quality is quickly becoming an important strategy for maintaining growth in the horticultural industry.

Climate change

Kenya has experienced an increase in extreme weather events, with severe droughts and flooding occurring every year since 2000. Temperature increases and rainfall irregularity, coupled with improper land use, such as deforestation, have resulted in successive seasons of crop failure and livestock deaths, an increase in pests and diseases, and a reduction in the availability of water. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) reports that the frequency of Rift Valley fever (RVF) and bacterial wilt in potatoes are increasing. During the worst period of drought in 2009 almost ten million Kenyans faced starvation.

During the worst period of drought in 2009 almost ten million Kenyans faced starvation (WRENmedia)
During the worst period of drought in 2009 almost ten million Kenyans faced starvation

The National Climate Change Response Strategy, published in 2010, recommends a number of interventions to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. Investment in water harvesting, early warning systems, food storage facilities, drought tolerant orphan crops (under-utilised) such as millet and cassava, and promotion of conservation agriculture are some of the options. To support the livestock sector, the report recommends breeding animals better able to cope with climatic changes, vaccination programmes and disease surveillance, establishment of emergency fodder banks and provision of water. Afforestation and reforestation programmes, increasing the involvement of forest communities in forest management and promotion of agroforestry and alternative livelihoods such as beekeeping and silkworm farming are some of the suggestions to protect and restore forests.

Meanwhile, KARI has set up a specialised climate change unit to deal with the emerging challenges in order to intensify research and develop both mitigation and adaptation strategies. Seeds of drought tolerant crop varieties are being produced and promoted by KARI's seed unit, while studies on camels, indigenous chickens, small ruminants, bees and guinea fowl have been enhanced in order to improve livestock productivity. KARI is also in the process of registering a thermal stable vaccine to better control Newcastle disease, while the Ministry of Livestock is working on improving marketing channels for livestock.

To reduce the vulnerability of farmers and livestock keepers, two innovative insurance projects are already underway. Kilimo Salama, or 'safe farming' in Swahili, is an insurance scheme that protects farmers' investments in seeds, fertilisers and other inputs. Piloted in 2009, the scheme pays out when experts monitoring local weather conditions and rainfall determine that crops have become unviable. Meanwhile in northern Kenya, another pilot insurance scheme is using satellite images of vegetation to determine when pasture has become so scarce that animals are likely to perish, triggering automatic payments to insured livestock keepers.

Resource use

Conflicts over natural resources are increasing. The Mau forest, Kenya's largest, is also the country's largest water tower and source of 12 rivers. But during the past 15 years more than one-quarter of the forest has been cleared. The rivers flowing out of the forest are drying up and, as they do, Kenya's harvests, cattle farms, hydro-electricity, tea, lakes and famous wildlife parks are suffering. The government has plans to resettle 20,000 families who live within the forest.

Lake Naivasha is characterised by pollution, overpopulation and overuse (WRENmedia)
Lake Naivasha is characterised by pollution, overpopulation and overuse

Fed by three rivers sourced in the Mau forest, Lake Nakuru is shrinking fast. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) reports that as the three rivers have dried up the lake has dropped from 2.6 metres deep 20 years ago to 1.4 metres today. KWS has resorted to digging boreholes and pumping water for the animals in the park to drink. Meanwhile, Lake Naivasha, previously one of the world's top-ten bird sites, is now characterised by pollution, overpopulation and overuse. Unsustainable water extraction for agriculture, horticulture and domestic water supplies has been blamed for shrinking the lake to half its size in the last 40 years.

Land is one of the most contentious issues in Kenya. Land grievances were at the root of violence that followed elections in 2007, when hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities were driven off land that local communities believe had been given to them illegally. Provisions in the new constitution are intended to address these historical injustices through the creation of a National Land Commission. Equitable access to land for all Kenyans and the elimination of discrimination against women are also stipulated. But the existence of productive farmland has also led to conflict between farmers and investors, most notably along the Tana River Delta where a number of national and multi-national companies have been granted licences to grow sugarcane and jatropha on wetlands for biofuel production. There have also been rumours of proposals that Kenya should lease Qatar 40,000 hectares to grow fruit and vegetables for export.

Strategic plans

Agriculture employs more than two-thirds of the population (WRENmedia)
Agriculture employs more than two-thirds of the population

According to the Ministry of Agriculture's 2008-2012 strategic plan, climate change, unfavourable international terms of trade, the cost of agricultural inputs, poor regional cooperation, migratory pests and diseases, inadequate infrastructure, ineffective extension services, low application of modern technology, and lack of credit are serious constraints to the sector.

Attainment of food security is a priority and according to Dr Joseph Mureithi, deputy director of research and technology at KARI, agricultural research and extension systems are being broadened to include government departments, universities, NGOs, the private sector and farmers. Given the importance of agriculture to the economy and to the livelihoods of millions of Kenyans, the Ministry of Agriculture is implementing a number of strategies to increase agricultural productivity, promote market access, enhance availability of affordable inputs and credit to farmers, and promote sustainable land use. And with warnings that Kenya is likely to experience another season of drought, the Ministry has announced plans to double grain reserves from 260 to 720 million kilos in anticipation of a shortfall.

Statistical information
  • Country: Kenya
  • Capital: Nairobi
  • Area: 580,367 sq km
  • Population: 39,002,772 (July 2010 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 2.7% (2010 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 70 (2010 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Kikuyu 22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, non-African (Asian, European, and Arab) 1%
  • Languages: English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous languages
  • Inflation: 9.3% (2009 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$62.56 billion (2009 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$1,600 (2009 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 20%; industry: 17%; services: 62% (2009 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 8%; permanent crops: 1%; other: 91% (2005)
  • Major industries: small-scale consumer goods, agricultural products, horticulture, oil refining; cement, commercial ship repair, tourism
  • Agricultural products: tea, coffee, maize, wheat, sugarcane, fruit, vegetables; dairy products, beef, pork, poultry, eggs
  • Natural resources: limestone, soda ash, salt, gemstones, fluorspar, zinc, diatomite, gypsum, wildlife, hydropower
  • Export commodities: tea, horticultural products, coffee, petroleum products, fish, cement
  • Export partners: UK 11.31%, Netherlands 9.81%, Uganda 9.07%, Tanzania 8.83%, US 5.93%, Pakistan 5.63% (2009)

Date published: November 2010


Have your say

On the Mau Forest. Col. Ewart Grogan got logging concession ... (posted by: Cosmas Ronno)

Wilson: Here is some information about Khat farming in Kenya... (posted by: New Agriculturist)

i would wish to do khat farming in kenya in a nyahururu how ... (posted by: wilson warui)


The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

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