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Kenya -- Agriculture

Kenya's economy is heavily dependent on agriculture. 75% of Kenyans make their living from farming, producing both for local consumption and for export. Though its population is high in proportion to its area, Kenya is counted among Africa countries whose food production has kept pace with its population growth. In recent times, only in 1984, a year of drought, was a deficit in food production registered.

Agriculture, when defined so as to include fishing, forestry and ranching, made up about 30% of GDP and 19% of wage employment in the formal sector in 1996. It is estimated that agriculture's share of informal-sector jobs is even higher, although data are unavailable. Agriculture brings in over 6% of foreign exchange earnings and provides raw materials for Kenya's agro-industries, which account for about 70% of all its industrial production. Over 50% of export revenue continues to be derived from primary products, notably tea, coffee, sisal, pyrethrum, sugar cane, wheat, and cotton. Only 15% of Kenya's total land area is sufficiently fertile to be farmed, and only 7% can be classified as first class land. Most of the northern region is semi-arid. As the desert encroaches from the north, pressure is mounting for Kenya to implement reforestation plans and to maximize productivity in existing farms.[1]

There have been a number of significant changes in government policies governing land ownership since independence that have afffected agriculture. When the policy of reserving land for white settlers was legally ended in 1959, much desirable farmland was transferred to Africans. Today Kenya recognizes three broad types of land tenure: government land, trust land, and private or freehold land. Trust land makes up 73% of the total land area. The rights to make use of trust lands are held by individual families, but disposal rights are held by tribes, whose elders must approve inheritance. Trust lands are gradually being converted, however, into freehold lands under an adjudication and registration program introduced in 1956.

Most of the land of high or medium potential for farming lies in the Western Highlands, around Lake Victoria and Mount Kenya, and along the coast. The five districts of Central Province, Kisii District in Nyanza Province and the Embu and Meru Districts in Eastern Province also are developed for intensive cultivation. On traditional farms, Kenyans continue to work the land using ancient subsistance methods. Irrigation projects have been limited, totaling about 11,735 hectares/ 29,000 acres. These projects are mainly located in the Yala Swamp and Kano Plain in West and in the upper and lower Tana River basins. Maize is Kenya's principal staple crop, with legumes falling in second place.

Kenya is only able to supply about 70% of its demand for wheat; an increasing demand for bread, especially in urban areas, has put strain on the country's economy since the cultivation of wheat has an 80% foreign exchange content compared with 50% for maize. Millet, cassava, and sorghum are also important crops. Tea has emerged as Kenya's most important cash crop after a decades-long competition with coffee; its primacy has largely been the result of improved production by small farmers. Kenya now produces more tea than any country in the world except India and China. Coffee continues to be an important export, though relatively less land (about 3%) is used to cultivate it. Kenya's ability to export coffee was long limited by an export quota system. When this system was abandoned in July 1989 and control over the production and marketing of coffee taken away from the Coffee Board of Kenya (CBK) in October 1992, Kenya greatly increased coffee sales. The coffee industry is now liberalized in several ways.

Dealers can now transact their business in US dollars. Farmers are free to sell their coffee outside the central market. The number of licensed marketing agents has markedly increased.

Kenya ranks second in the world in the production of sisal and fourth in the export of cut flowers. The country supplies almost 70% of global demand for pyrethrum. Other agricultural exports include cashew nuts, fruits and vegetables. Agricultural goods are now Kenya's third largest merchandise export.

Beef and dairy cattle are also important to Kenya's agricultural economy. Kenya has one of the most developed dairy industries in Sub-Saharan Africa, with an annual milk production of some 2 billion liters. The fishing industry handled 121,984 tons of fish in 1987, mostly fresh water fish caught in Lake Victoria[2]


[1] Uwechue, Ralph (ed.) 1996. Africa Today, Third Edition, Africa Books

Limited, pp.866-867.

[2] Uwechue, Ralph (ed.) 1996. Africa Today, Third Edition, Africa Books

Limited, pp.867-868.


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