Mkulima today agriculture in Kenya is going through a lot of challenges. Farmers in all corners of the nation are in pain. As the farmers are crying so is agriculture in Kenya and the future if nothing changes.

We are all hoping that the ministry of agriculture can do more and support farmers especially with reducing the cost of farm inputs.

Agriculture in Kenya today and the future

Agriculture in Kenya today dominates the country’s economy.

Currently, about fifteen to seventeen percent of Kenya’s land area is suitable for agriculture with sufficient fertility and annual rainfall.

Out of these about seven to eight percent can be classified as first-class land.

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In the year 2006, almost 75 percent of working-class Kenyans earned their living through agriculture as compared to over 80 percent in the year 1980.

This figure has been on the decline with the average farmer’s age in Kenya being about 65 years old. This though is expected to change in the coming years with more youth getting involved in agriculture.

This is a good sign and can grow the industry to its former glory as the country’s top foreign exchange earner like it was in the past with tea and coffee.

About one half of Kenya’s total production is non marketed subsistence production.

Agriculture is also the largest contributor to the country’s GDP and the largest employer.

In the year 2005 agriculture including forestry and fisheries accounted for about a quarter of the total GDP, 18 percent employment wages, and 50 percent of the export revenue.

Agriculture as many of you have suspected is the most important economic sector in the country. This is true although less than 8 percent of the land is used for crop cultivation and feed production and less than 20 percent is suitable for cultivation.

Kenya is one of the leading global producers of tea and coffee as well as the third leading exporter of fresh produce such as

  • cabbages
  • onions and
  • mangoes

Agriculture in Kenya is mainly practiced by small scale farmers in rural areas and mainly grow

  • corn
  • vegetables
  • potatoes
  • bananas
  • pea and
  • chilies

Farm produce

Sweet potatoes

The most common variety that grows in several places in the country is white, purple, and red.

Yellow fleshed sweet potatoes have grown in demand as a result of nutritionist promoting it as a good source of vitamin A.

This is because study has it that most meals in Kenya luck vitamin A.

Luck of vitamin A is not fatal but it leaves the body weak and prone to diseases like misles, malaria, and diarrhea. Vitamin A deficiency might also create blindness.

Despite all the efforts at the ministry of agriculture and its partner institutions to develop resilient crops, it hasn’t been successful yet.

As a result of these challenges the efforts have been diverted to pseudo resilience . This includes working on mitigating damages caused by weevils.

This is achieved through deeper roots storage formation and short-season varieties. This supports by reducing the amount of time it’s exposed to weevils.

Where farmers piecemeal their sweet potato harvest, there can be up to a 10 percent crop loss. This loss is mainly due to disease and weevils that can be very destructive. Beetle pests can completely destroy sweet potato plantations.


Kenya is the third-largest producer of cut flowers in the world. The largest number of the over 100 flower farms are based around the Lake Naivasha region.

Naivasha is about 90 kilometers away from Nairobi. To ensure the flowers get to market on time they are delivered to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport that has a dedicated area for flower exports.

The flower industry in the country currently employs about 90,000 people directly and a further 500,000 indirectly as per the data from the flower council of Kenya.

Kenyan .flowers make for about 30 to 35 percent of the total number of all flowers auctioned in Europe.

Kenyan flowers are also very popular with citizens of Russia and the United States.


Small growers are able to increase crop yields significantly by following simple guidelines.

By following good crop maintenance such as proper pruning you are assured of better harvests. But many don’t, because it seems counterintuitive

Farming methods used

Convenventianal farming

This is the most common farming method in Kenya today.

Small scale farmers in Kenya are adapting to changes though. Because of pests, disease, and decreased soil fertility, farmers are rotating their sweet potato plants as much as possible.
This means farming a field for sweet potato plants on a rotational basis.
Also, many farmers currently don’t farm the crop in the same field for two consecutive years.
Planting rice between two sweet potato crops has long been suggested for areas suitable for rice farming.
This is because the rice can act as a barrier to pests that attack the sweet potatoes.
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 the germination of proso millet.

The only sure way for a guaranteed harvest is weed control.

Weed control requires many hours of manual labor. 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.

 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.

Plant or crop irrigation

Kenya’s irrigation sector is categorized into three organizational types:

  • smallholder schemes,
  • centrally-managed public schemes and
  • private/commercial irrigation schemes.

The smallholder schemes are owned, developed, and managed by individuals or groups of farmers operating as water users or self-help groups.

Irrigation is carried out by an individual or on group farms averaging 0.1-0.4 ha. There are about 3,000 smallholder irrigation schemes covering a total area of 47,000 ha.

This is equivalent to 42% of the total area under irrigation.

They produce the bulk of horticultural produce consumed in urban centers in the country.

The country has seven large, centrally managed irrigation schemes, namely

  • Mwea,
  • Bura,
  • Hola,
  • Perkera,
  • West Kano,
  • Bunyala and
  •  Ahero

This irrigation schemes cover a total commanded area of about 18,200 ha and averaging 2,600 ha per scheme.

These schemes are managed by the National Irrigation Board and account for 18% of irrigated land area in Kenya.

Initially, the government developed and managed national schemes with farmers participating as tenants. However, with effect from 2003, National Irrigation Board handed over to stakeholders responsible for most services, except for the development, O & M, and rehabilitation of the major irrigation facilities.

Large-scale private commercial farms cover 45,000 hectares accounting for 40% of irrigated land.

They utilize high technology and produce high-value crops for the export market, especially flowers and vegetables.

Most of the large scale irrigated farms can be seen as you drive along Nairobi Nakuru highway or within Naivasha sub-county.

The farms employ a workforce of about 70,000 persons which is 41% of the population directly active in irrigated agriculture.

Organic farming

Organic farming includes crop rotation, and mulches to control pests and soil fertility.

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.

Do you agree with FAO? Leave your comment below on your opinion.

With the growth of the middle class in Kenya, we have witnessed a demand surge in organic food.

This growth has led to a lot of changes in crop production and the need for healthier foods as more people change to a healthier lifestyle.

Sweet potato is typically grown organically in most areas of Africa and Kenyan farmers are not left behind.

To decrease labor costs during weeding, farmers interviewed in the past 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.

Genetic farming / GMO

Many farmers in Kenya refer to genetically modified (GMO) maize delivered by the US as the Trojan horse.

GMOs are currently illegal in Kenya, although the US continues to send modified maize to Kenya in the form of aid.

The government is also currently taking active measures to introduce GMO into the current market for few selected crops.

Months ago the ministry of agriculture called for stakeholders public participation as written in the constitution.

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 an 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. The GMO debate in Kenya is a topic that will still be discussed for years to come.

Greenhouse farming

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 capsicum and tomatoes.

Greenhouse farming enables farmers to use less agricultural inputs including labor, fertilizers, and control pests and diseases.

Kenya is classified as a water-scarce country 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.

The million-acre scheme

David Gordon Hines was seconded by the United Kingdom or Great Britain in the years 1954–1962 to advise the Kenya minister of agriculture about the “Million-acre scheme” to buy expatriate farms mostly in the Kenya Highlands. This was the post-colonial error distribution of the white highlands.

A million-acre settlement scheme was the most publicized and the largest in terms of the acreage of land involved.

The million-acre scheme was initiated in 1962 to allow for the purchase of 1 million acres of European mixed farms over a period of five years and transfer the land to African fanners.

Other objectives of the million-acre settlement scheme were economic, thus creating employment on the farms and generate sufficient income to the farmers.

The architects of the programme came up with strategies that were universally applied to other settlement schemes such as

  • land budget,
  • annual expenditure and
  • income, and
  • loan repayment schedules.

Over thirty years since the completion of the programme in 1966, the objectives of adequate income generation and creation of employment have not been achieved.

This is evident as most peasant farmers can no longer generate enough incomes from their fanning activities neither can farming absorb all the available labour in these regions leading to widespread poverty.

Agriculture research

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) now renamed to Kenya Agriculture Research Organization (KALRO) is mandated with relevant research.

By an 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.

KALRO is the national institution bringing together research programs in

  • food crops,
  • horticultural and industrial crops,
  • livestock and range management,
  • land and water management, and
  • socio-economics.

KALRO promotes sound agricultural research, technology generation, and dissemination to ensure food security through improved productivity and environmental conservation.

KALRO 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,
  • the Ministries of Agriculture and Livestock Development.

In 1986, the Kenyan government recognized the challenge to meet long-term food production constraints in the country.

The Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute (KEVEVAPI) and the Kenya Trypanosomiasis Research Institute (KETRI) have been integrated into KALRO 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, reorganize, and consolidate agricultural research within the country.

The new institution has an asset and equity base of KSh 28,000,000,000 and KSh 27,900,000,000 respectively, and 3,294 staff.

Likewise, the government has set up some study institutions to aid in research projects in order to alleviate poverty, reduce unemployment, and fight malnutrition.

Such institutions are like departments at Egerton University and the Jomo Kenyatta Univeristy of science and Technology set mainly for agricultural research purposes.

Youth and agriculture

Unlike times that are long gone, the youth are taking center stage in the development and growth of agriculture in the country.

In the past the average of a farmer in Kneya was 65 years old but with more youoth getting into agribusiness this nolonger holds.

These has increased uptake of technology in farming.

Some of these technologies include the use of machinery in land preparation, Planting, Ploughing, weeding and pruning, harvesting & storage, and marketing.

Currentky you can buy anything on socila media and this neww wave is been driven by tech survy youth who use the soxcail networks to markeet their produce.

Some of the Technologies involving the youth are but not limited to as below:-

Most of the agricultural players involving the youths are:-

  • Manufacturers – Fertilizers, Pesticides, Seeds, Farm Machineries, Textile among others
  • Processors – Milk Products, Juice Products, Sisal Processors, cooking oil
  • Exporters
  • Farmers
  • Extension Officers
  • Kenya Ministry of Agriculture
  • Farmers Cooperatives
  • Agricultural Associations
  • Agricultural Financial Organizations e.g. AFC
  • Retailers – Supermarkets, Informal Markets,

Most of the youthful farmers in Kenya are small-scale farmers.

Small scale in the sense that only they have an average of 10 acres especially in Rift Valley and Coastal regions, Central and Western Regions have lesser average.

The Kenyan Highlands is best known for its milk, maize, and wheat production, while other places produce mainly fruits, sisal among others.

Most of the products are mainly sold through co-operatives like milk, tea and coffee while others sell them directly or through middle-men to the customers.

These have increased the number of informal markets around the country which exploit farmers in the process.

The country also exports other high-quality farm products such as coffee, tea, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Most of the exports are usually Grade 1 and 2 only, with Good Agricultural Practices methods being followed.

Through Loans, grants among other financial support, the youth have been involved in the above agribusiness in order to improve their businesses, employ others, and expand markets.

Having an agribusiness question? Do you know of a successful agribusiness venture or story that you wish to share? I would like to hear from you. Send me the TIP(s) at

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