Seeking solutions to Kenyan Agriculture

Despite rapid modernisation and industrialisation, agriculture remains a major contributor of the Kenyan economy, accounting for 25% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Agriculture also accounts for 65% of Kenya’s total exports and provides more than 18% of formal employment.

Consequently, there remains a symbiotic relationship between growth of the national economy and development in agriculture. Both work in tandem with huge ramifications.

Rain-dependent, Kenya’s agriculture relies on the bimodal rainfall in most parts of the country. Much of the country – some 80 per cent – is semi-arid and arid with an annual rainfall average of 400 mm. Droughts are frequent and in one out of every three seasons crops fail.

Kenya’s agriculture is predominantly small-scale farming with production carried out on farms averaging 0.2–3 hectares, mostly on a commercial basis. This small-scale production accounts for 75 % of the total agricultural output and 70 % of marketed agricultural produce.

Challenges to agriculture:

 – Climate change  Because of the dependence on irrigation by nature, the unpredictability of rainfall has greatly affected farmers in their ability to plan ahead. Areas which once received adequate rainfall, today face insufficient to support agriculture. This necessitates the need for more sophisticated means of providing irrigation which could increase agricultural productivity fourfold and, depending on the crops, incomes can be multiplied ten times.

 – Improved Connectivity. The “extension service” is critical in transforming subsistence farming to a modern and commercial agriculture “to promote household food security, improve income and reduce poverty.” However, there is limited access to extension services in most parts of the country with the National extension staff: farmer ratio standing at 1:1,500. This situation has hindered most farmers from keeping pace with changing technological advances. There is therefore a need for recruitment of more extension staff and the involvement of NGO’s to increase access of extension services to farmers.

 – outdated technology– Following on from (2) above, and while noting that Kenya has a well-developed agricultural research system, the use of modern science and technology is still limited. As reported: “Inadequate research–extension–farmer linkages to facilitate demand-driven research and increased use of improved technologies continue to constrain efforts to increase agricultural productivity as farmers continue to use outdated and ineffective technologies.” This necessitates extension services that can link research and the farmers.

 – Pest and Diseases – Major losses to farmers are caused by pests and diseases. Farmers lack the vital information on how to control these diseases. Once again, “extension services” offering sound advice and providing solutions could prove instrumental in helping reducing losses.

 – Use of inputs – Due to the lack of information on the right type of farm inputs to use and the appropriate time of application, hinders optimum production. The cost of key inputs such as seed, pesticides, fertilizer, drugs and vaccines is high for most farmers who thus fail to use them. This invariably greatly reduces the yield.

 – Soil nutrient deterioration – Increasing population, notably the density – has led “to the subdivision of land to uneconomically small units.” In addition, continuous cultivation has resulted in the depletion of soil nutrients, declining yields, and environmental degradation. These farmers need information on the right farming practices aimed and restoring the soil nutrient, which could be provided by “extension services”.

 – Inadequate infrastructures – The primitive road network in the countryside as well as other key poor physical infrastructure, results in high transportation costs for agricultural inputs and products. It also leads to the spoilage of perishable commodities during transportation resulting in major losses to farmers.

While these challenges may appear daunting, they are however soluble if effective extension and advisory services are provided to farmers.

This is where government needs to play a more constructive role by improving infrastructure, strengthening ‘research, extension and training’ and facilitating farmer access to affordable inputs and credit.

With most the challenges compounded by the lack of information and knowledge, an effective ‘extensions and advisory service’ will go a long way to alleviate many of these challenges confronting the Kenyan farmer.