Agriculture in Kenya

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Potatoes harvested from a Kenyan farm.

Agriculture in Kenya dominates Kenya's economy. 15–17 percent of Kenya's total land area has sufficient fertility and rainfall to be farmed, and 7–8 percent can be classified as first-class land.[1][2] In 2006, almost 75 percent of working Kenyans made their living by farming, compared with 80 percent in 1980.[1] About one-half of Kenya's total agricultural output is non-marketed subsistence production.[1]

Agriculture is also the largest contributor to Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP).[1] In 2005, agriculture, including forestry and fishing, accounted for about 24 percent of the GDP, as well as for 18 percent of wage employment and 50 percent of revenue from exports.[1]

Farming is the most important economic sector in Kenya, although less than 8 percent of the land is used for crop and feed production, and less than 20 percent is suitable for cultivation. Kenya is a leading producer of tea and coffee, as well as the third-leading exporter of fresh produce, such as cabbages, onions and mangoes. Small farms grow most of the corn and also produce potatoes, bananas, beans and peas.

Sweet potatoes[edit]

The most common varieties that Kenyan sweet potato farmers grow are white, red and purple. The yellow-fleshed sweet potato's popularity has increased, due to nutritionists promoting it as a source of vitamin A, which is lacking in the Kenyan diet.[3] The vitamin A deficiency is not fatal, but it leaves the immune system depleted and susceptible to measles, malaria and diarrhoea. The deficiency also may cause blindness.[3] Kenyan people farm to help their children Despite efforts to develop completely resistant plants, little has been achieved so far. Therefore, attention is turning to pseudo-resistance, which includes mitigating weevil damage through deeper storage roots formation and short-season varieties, which are exposed to weevil infestation for less time.[4] Where farmers piecemeal their sweet potato harvest, there can be up to a 10 percent crop loss due to disease and weevils. Beetle pests can completely destroy sweet potato plantations.


According to the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), the sub-sector employs 90,000 people directly and a further 600,000 to 700,000 indirectly in auxiliary services. Kenyan flowers also make up 30 to 35% of flowers auctioned in Europe, with roses making up to 74% of the flower exports.

However, the competitiveness and growth of Kenya’s agriculture and floriculture sectors are impacted by climate change, as both are highly vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate variability.[5] Nevertheless, the flower industry in Kenya is known for taking measures to respond to environmental impacts by embracing alternative sources of resources, especially water and power. The flower farm Oserian is using geothermal energy for heating greenhouses, Bilashaka is using solar energy, and Timaflor biogas. Many of these developments also contribute to carbon emission reduction.[6]

Conventional growing[edit]

Smallholder farmers in Kenya.

Because of pests, disease and decreased soil nutrients, farmers are rotating their sweet potato plants as much as possible, which means using a field for sweet potato plants only once every 5 years, and not having the crop in the same field for two consecutive years. "Planting rice between two sweet potato crops have long been suggested." When sweet potatoes and rice crops were planted in fields adjacent to each other, the sweet potato weevil infestation level dropped. "Reduced weevil damage was observed when sweet potato was intercropped with proso millet and sesame, but sweet potato yield was also considerably reduced. The sweet potato has been found to inhibit germination of proso millet." This crop rotation and growing pattern is very common in Africa.

Weed control requires many hours of manual labour. Uncontrolled weed growth reduces crop yield by as much as 60 percent. "Some farmers solve this problem by cultivating a smaller area, but this also reduces total yields. Herbicides are too expensive for most smallholders."[2] When the sweet potato plant is propagated a number of consecutive times, the yield decreases and virus build-up increases. "Viruses can be removed by heat treatment.

Organic growing[edit]

A Kenyan farmer shows some of the onions he has grown to sell on his farm near Gilgil. The farmer is part of a project supported by AusAID.

An 8-year comparative study, the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems project, compared conventional farming systems with differing practices of crop rotation and soil substance.[7] The results showed that organic methods had yields in the same range as conventional systems for all crops that were studied, and for some crop studies, the yield level was higher for organics than conventional systems. The organic systems were noted for "increases in the organic carbon content of the soil and larger pools of stored nutrients, each of which is critical for long-term fertility maintenance."[7]

Sweet potato is typically grown organically in Africa. To decrease labour for weeding, farmers interviewed by Macharia (2004) expressed preference for planting on mounds after trying ridges. Farmers found mound methods yielded larger tubers, and easier to use without new fertilizers or chemicals.[8] Organic farming includes crop rotation, and mulches to control pests and soil fertility.

Organic farming by the Rothamsted and Rodale experiments have shown that "manure-based systems can provide enough nitrogen not only to sustain high crop yields but also to build up the nitrogen storage in the soil".[7] According, to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Kenya had no percentage of certified organic cropland in 2003, yet farmers use organic methods.[citation needed]

Genetically-altered growing[edit]

Many farmers in Kenya refer to genetically modified (GM) maize delivered by the US as the Trojan horse.[9] GMs are currently illegal in Kenya, although the US continues to send modified maize to Kenya in the form of aid.[10]

Kenyans and other Africans, like Malawians and Zimbabweans, grind maize into flour before distributing it. Some activists have said that the US is purposefully sending GM food as aid to undercut the organic export market and cause Europe to start buying from the US. Other farmers may not be aware of GMs, and others are, as Hollie said simply too poor. If a farmer uses the chemicals, the soil becomes poor.

Greenhouse Farming in Kenya[edit]

Kenya has a high birth rate[11] which has led to a reduction in available farming land. In addition, the East African country has a high rate of rural to urban migration.[12] These two factors have led to an upsurge in demand for fresh food products. To increase production and boost profits, many small scale farmers in Kenya are adopting Greenhouse farming. Some of the popular products being grown in greenhouses include Watermelons,[13] Pilipili Hoho[14] (Capsicum) and Tomatoes.

Greenhouse farming in Kenya enables farmers to use less agricultural inputs (including labor and fertilizers) and control pests and diseases. The East African country is classified as a water scarce country[15] and most of the land is not optimal for agriculture. Most Kenyan greenhouses utilize drip irrigation to maximize the use of the available water and efficiently deliver nutrients to their crops.

Million-acre scheme[edit]

David Gordon Hines was seconded by the UK 1954–1962 to advise the Kenya minister of agriculture about the "Million-acre scheme" to buy expatriate farms mostly in the Kenya Highlands.[16]

Agricultural research by government institutions[edit]

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)[17] is mandated with relevant research. KARI is the national institution bringing together research programmes in food crops, horticultural and industrial crops, livestock and range management, land and water management, and socio-economics. KARI promotes sound agricultural research, technology generation and dissemination to ensure food security through improved productivity and environmental conservation.

KARI was established in 1979 as a semi-autonomous government institution. The new institute continued research activities from the East African Agricultural and Forestry Research Organisation (EAAFRO), East African Veterinary Research Organisation (EAAVRO) and, finally, the Ministries of Agriculture and Livestock Development. In 1986, the Kenyan government recognised the challenge to meet long-term food production constraints in the country. The Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute (KEVEVAPI) and the Kenya Tripanosomiasis Research Institute (KETRI) have been integrated into KARI more recently. This was due to the recognition of the need by the government to further strengthen its agricultural research system to create an institutional framework to effectively manage, reorganise and consolidate agricultural research within the country.[18]

By act of parliament the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) was established in 2013. It merged with KARI, Coffee Research Foundation, Tea Research Foundation and the Kenya Sugar Research Foundation and has oversight of 18 research institutes.[19][20] The new institution has an asset and equity base of KSh. 28 billion and KSh. 27.9 billion respectively, and 3,294 staff.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kenya country profile. Library of Congress Federal Research Division (June 2007). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ a b Mwanda, C.O. Engineering Division, Ministry of Agriculture. (2000). A note on weed control in Machakos District, Kenya. Retrieved 5 May 2008, from
  3. ^ a b Nel, Michelle. GM Potatoes Rejected in Year of Potato. Retrieved 1 May 2008, from The Case of Transgenic Sweet Potato in Kenya. Retrieved 4 May 2008, from
  4. ^ International Potato Center. Biological Weevil Control. Retrieved 5 May 2008, from
  5. ^ "The Carbon Reduction, Resources and Opportunities Toolkit (CaRROT) – Guidelines and Opportunities" (PDF). CDKN, Camco Advisory Services, the Horticultural Crops Development Authority and KFC. Retrieved 2015-04-15. 
  6. ^ "Kenya’s flower industry set to measure carbon footprint". CDKN. Retrieved 2015-04-15. 
  7. ^ a b c Vasilikiotis, Christos PhD Energy Bulletin. (31 January 2001). Can Organic Farming "Feed the World?": The Legacy of Industrial Agriculture. Retrieved 19 April 2008, from
  8. ^ Macharia, Peter. Kenya National Report. (29 July 2004). Gateway to Land and Water Information. Retrieved 21 April 2008, from
  9. ^ Hand, E. (12 December 2006). Biotech debate divides Africa. Knight Ridder Tribune Business News, Retrieved 27 May 2008, from ProQuest Database
  10. ^ Black, R. (9 August 2004). Struggling to find GM's middle ground. Retrieved 1 June 2008, from
  11. ^ Why Kenya is experiencing a high birth rate
  12. ^ Why 30 percent of Kenyans prefer to live in cities
  13. ^ Watermelon farming in Kenya
  14. ^ Pilipili hoho farming in Kenya
  15. ^ Water scarcity in Kenya
  16. ^ (a) Two-hour interview by WD Ogilvie of David Hines in 1999 (b) Obituary by WD Ogilvie in the London Daily Telegraph 8 April 2000.
  17. ^ KARI
  18. ^ Historical Perspective of KARI
  19. ^ "Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Act (No 17 of 2013)". Parliament of Kenya. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  20. ^ "Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation". Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  21. ^ "Kari merged with 3 others to create research body". Standard Digital News. 19 August 2014. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 

External links[edit]

State corporations of Kenyan agriculture from the Kenyan government main site