Climate-Smart Agriculture: Kenya Country Profile

Continuing its series on climate-smart agriculture (CSA), the World Bank has recently released a country profile for Kenya. Of the country’s 42.7 million people, 74 percent live in rural areas; agriculture employs more than 80 percent of Kenya’s rural workforce and provides about 18 percent of the country’s total formal employment. Over the past 30 years, the agricultural sector has contributed 28 percent of the country’s GDP and 65 percent of the country’s total export earnings.

Despite the country’s reliance on agriculture, however, Kenya faces significant production limitations due to a variety of factors, including low input use, a lack of irrigation, and limited market access and information. As a result, the country depends on imports of several important staple crops, including wheat, maize, and rice. Recent efforts have been made to increase crop production in order to meet the food demands of a growing population, but this expansion of crop area has often led to a reduction of grazing land available for livestock and subsequent economic losses for cattle producers.

Kenyan agriculture’s major challenges stem from the fact that agricultural production is mainly small-scale. Farmers own an average of 0.2 to 3 hectares of land; these small-scale holdings are made up of mixed crop-livestock systems and small commercial production. While such small farms occupy one-third of the country’s overall land, they account for 78 percent of Kenya’s total agricultural production and 70 percent of overall commercial production.  Small-scale farmers produce the majority of Kenya’s maize, coffee, tea, milk, fish, and beef products, but use only limited modern inputs such as hybrid seeds or improved fertilizers. Irrigation use also remains limited in Kenya, with only 0.16 percent of arable land receiving irrigation in 2012.  

Kenya also faces challenges from climate change. Average annual temperatures increased by 1oC between 1960 and 2003; in the country’s drier sub-regions, this increase was 1.5o. Seasonal rainfalls also vary significantly throughout the country, and extreme climatic events such as droughts and floods have increased in frequency in recent years. These uncertain climate patterns make it even more difficult for farmers to successfully and sustainably ramp up agricultural production to feed the country’s growing population.

According to the World Bank report, Kenya’s maize production will be particularly hard hit by the changing climate. Losses due to climate shocks are estimated to reach between US$100-200 million annually by 2050; maize yield rates are expected to decrease by between 12 and 25 percent during the same timeframe, while food prices are expected to increase by as much as 75 to 90 percent. All of these changes could mean increased food security, hunger, and poverty, particularly in low rainfall areas.

On the other hand, Kenya’s agricultural challenges also point to some important opportunities for scaling up adaptation efforts. The agricultural sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Kenya, accounting for 58.6 percent of emissions; of that number, 96.2 percent comes from Kenya’s livestock sector. The huge role that livestock production plays in GHG emissions, however, also means that improving livestock management techniques could have an equally huge role in lowering those emissions. Such improvements could include improved pasture management, the adoption of feed that produces less methane in animals’ guts, and the use of biodigesters (systems that help recycle manure and thus reduce methane emissions) in dairy production.

Kenya’s Climate Change Action Plan also recognizes the importance of other CSA practices, including agroforestry, conservation tillage, cultivation of drought-tolerant crops, water harvesting, and integrated soil fertility management. Some farmers have begun using terracing for maize, bean, and coffee production and have adopted drought-tolerant crop varieties, particularly for beans, pigeon peas, and cowpeas, in drier regions. More efficient irrigation use in rice production is also taking hold, although adoption of all of these techniques remains relatively low.

The report emphasizes the fact that the proper institutional and financing environment must be established if Kenya is to take full advantage of the growing CSA movement. Many farmers and agricultural stakeholders cannot afford to make the transition to more climate-smart practices, and important infrastructure such as agricultural extension services, climate information systems, and weather forecasting stations are scarce. Future climate adaptation will require more inclusive, innovative knowledge management systems that can both facilitate the sharing of more modern techniques and expand upon the use of sustainable indigenous practices.

One way that such an improved institutional environment could be created is through allowing county-level ministries more autonomy in agricultural decision-making. Placing more power in the hands of local institutions will allow for better targeted programs and incentives, as well as more timely delivery of information, inputs, and assistance.

Both domestic and international financial support will also be key in driving climate-smart agriculture in Kenya. Currently, the Kenyan government has not specifically included CSA in its national agricultural budget, but a new National Climate Change Fund is currently being established; this bill would include support for CSA programs. Kenya is also working to establish several crop and livestock weather-index insurance schemes to help protect farmers from the effects of climate change; scaling up such schemes will require public-private partnerships and assistance from international banks and development partners.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Flickr: Esther Havens