With the largest, most diversified economy in East Africa, Kenyan agriculture occupies a central place in the government’s development strategy. A major producer of tea and coffee, Kenya is also notable as one of the biggest exporters to Europe of fresh produce, such as vegetables, fruit and flowers. In 2016, the agriculture sector contributed about 35 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employed more than 62 percent of the total labor force (World Bank).
Kenya's total land area is about 587,000 km2, of which 18 percent has a high to medium agricultural potential. The rest is less suitable for farming, being defined as arid and semi-arid land (ASALs). About 3 million smallholder farming families account for 75 percent of total agricultural production. The principal crop is maize (sometimes supplemented by potatoes, bananas, beans and peas), typically cultivated using limited technology and on land often measuring no more than two hectares.
Challenges for agriculture in Kenya
Over the last 50 years, the population of Kenya has increased more than fourfold, and now stands at approximately 50 million people. However, in recent years agricultural productivity has seen stagnation. This poses critical challenges to food security in the country. Only about 20 percent of Kenyan land is suitable for farming, and maximum yields have not been reached in these areas. Smallholder farmers therefore have a vital role to play in improving agricultural productivity. However, they face a number of constraining factors. Farmers often lack access to adequate financial or extension services, leaving them vulnerable to vagaries in the market or to the impact of high losses caused by costly transportation or goods perishing in transit on poorly-maintained rural roads. Most farmers work without basic agricultural inputs and continue to use outdated and ineffective technologies in the absence of the availability of modern science and technology inputs, mechanization and training. Rain-fed farming systems predominate, but farmers are being pushed into dryer, more marginal areas where they become increasingly vulnerable to drought and the unpredictability of weather patterns resulting from climate change. This brings a need for a greater focus on irrigation farming, especially in ASALs.
Work of Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture in Kenya
Since 2009, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) has worked with partners to improve the crop yields and income of Kenyan smallholders. The work has focused on modern agricultural knowledge, soil management practices, and facilitating access to markets. Our Kenyan team helps, for example, to train farmers in conservation agriculture. It also supports them in the proper use of crop protection products, and in access to appropriate technology in a market-led extension service.
SFSA is also helping to tackle a huge threat to East African harvests: Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND). In 2017, Kenya's The Sower magazine reported on our two initiatives against MLND. In June 2018, our partners at CIMMYT announced a further round ofphenotyping at the artificial inoculation screening site in Naivasha. "The main challenge now", says our Chief Science Advisor Mike Robinson, "is urgently to get the resistance genetics into suitable varieties. Our PPP approach enables that possibility."