Agriculture sector plays a vital role in a country’s economy, Agriculture has been making a significant contribution to the Kenyan economic prosperity in the previous decades. Kenya has the largest, most diversified economy in East Africa with agriculture being the backbone of the economy and also central to the country’s development strategy. More than 75 percent of Kenyans make some part of their living in agriculture, and the sector accounts for more than a fourth of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Agriculture remains a significant part of the Kenya economy, however, growth was slowed by several hurdles, most prominently a drought that the state declared to be a national disaster. The drought restrained domestic production of staple crops such as maize, leading to food scarcity and steep rises consumer inflation. Moreover, only about 20 percent of Kenyan land is suitable for farming, and in these areas maximum yields have not been achieved, leaving considerable potential for increases in productivity. Most farmers work without modern seeds and technology or adequate financial or extension services.
Despite the lower grain output, production of horticultural crops marked an all-time high and remained crucial sources of foreign exchange earnings. Meanwhile, meeting the ambitious target set by the Big Four agenda, which aims to transform Kenya from a state incapable of satisfying domestic demand into a food-secure country, will require mitigating dependence on rainfall, diversifying the nation’s staple basket and supporting smallholders.
Most farmers work without basic agricultural inputs or updated technology and lack adequate financial or extension services. Recurrent crises such as drought in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas have exacerbated the vulnerability of basic livelihoods. This has posed critical challenges to food security as over two million people receive food aid annually. USAID is implementing activities that are focused on increasing agricultural productivity and incomes for smallholder farmers; building more resilient communities; improving access to clean water and energy; and increasing access to affordable financing for farmers, entrepreneurs and businesses.
The sector accounts for 65 per cent of the export earnings, and provides the livelihood (employment, income and food security needs) for more than 80 per cent of the Kenyan population and contributes to improving nutrition through production of safe, diverse and nutrient dense foods. The sector is also the min driver of the non-agricultural economy including manufacturing, providing inputs and markets for non-agricultural operations such as building/construction, transportation, tourism, education and other social services.
The dynamics of poverty within Kenya are changing and directly influence the country’s agricultural sector. Currently 46 per cent of the population live on less than 1 USD a day, 36.5 per cent are food insecure and 35 per cent of children under five are stunted (chronically malnourished) in Kenya. The country’s population has increased significantly (growing from 11 million in 1970 to 39.5 million in 2011) and at the current rate of growth, it will be double in the next 27 years, reaching 81 million in 2039. As a result of this rapid increase, land parcels in the areas of high agricultural potential are decreasing in size, affecting food production.
Farmers, who are used to rain-fed farming systems, are being pushed into dryer, more marginal areas where they become increasingly vulnerable to drought and the unpredictability of weather patterns resulting from climate change. The population increase, coupled with the expansion of agriculture into arid lands, has affected the dynamics of pastoralism where increased competition for natural resources has sparked escalated conflict in some areas. Furthermore, there has been a marked increase in the number of people dropping out of the nomadic livelihood, often moving into settled communities which are heavily reliant on food aid.
Given the importance of agriculture in rural areas of Kenya where poverty is prevalent, the sector’s importance in poverty alleviation cannot be overstated. Strengthening and improving the performance of the agricultural sector and enabling the engagement of the poorest and most vulnerable in this process is therefore a prerequisite and a necessary condition for achieving recovery and growth in Kenya after recent years of drought and slow development.