Agriculture has since independence in 1963 expanded with widespread acceptance of private ownership (replacing communal ownership) and cash crop farming; and intensive nationwide efforts to expand and upgrade the production of smallholder farming.
Although less than eight per cent of Kenya’s land is under cultivation, agriculture is the country’s most important economic activity.
With most of the country’s land mass being arid or semi-arid, only about 20 per cent is arable.
About 80 per cent of Kenya’s work force engages in agriculture or food processing. Farming is typically carried out by small producers who usually cultivate no more than five acres using limited technology.
These small farms, operated by about three million families, account for 75 per cent of total production. Although there are still important large-scale coffee, tea, and sisal plantations, an increasing number of peasant farmers grow cash crops.
From independence in 1963 to the oil crisis in 1973, the agricultural sector expanded by undergoing two basic changes: first, widespread acceptance of private ownership (replacing communal ownership) and cash crop farming; second, the success of intensive nationwide efforts to expand and upgrade the production of African smallholders.
Before World War II (1939–45) ended, agricultural development occurred almost exclusively in the “White Highlands”, an area of some 31,000 square kilometres allocated to immigrant white settlers and plantation companies.
Since independence, as part of a land consolidation and resettlement policy, the Kenya government, with financial aid from the United Kingdom, has gradually transferred large areas to African ownership. European-owned agriculture remains generally large-scale and almost entirely commercial.
After the 1973 oil crisis, agricultural growth slowed as less untapped land became available. Government involvement in marketing, coupled with inefficient trade and exchange rate policies discouraged production during the 1970s.
Coffee production booms in the late 1970s and in 1986 have in the past temporarily helped the economy in its struggle away from deficit spending and monetary expansion. Although the expansion of agricultural export crops has been the most important factor in stimulating economic development, much agricultural activity is also directed toward providing food for domestic consumption. Kenya’s agriculture is sufficiently diversified to produce nearly all of the nation’s basic food. To some extent, Kenya also helps feed neighbouring countries.
Agriculture has defied odds to emerge the leading economic sector after recording the highest growth in 2012. The sector expanded by 3.8 per cent, compared to a suppressed growth of 1.5 per cent in 2011.
The performance of various sub-sectors varied mainly on account of delayed long rains. In 2012, the long and short rains were erratic with some regions experiencing above normal rains while others received depressed rainfall.
During the period under review, agriculture value added at constant prices increased from Kshs12 billion in 2011 to Kshs323.9 billion in 2012.
In 2012, agriculture was the main contributor to Kenya’s economic growth of 4.6 per cent, up from 4.4 per cent in 2011. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) 2013 Economic Survey, agriculture, which grew by 3.8 per cent, contributed 17.6 per cent of the overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Economic growth was aided by easing inflation as favourable weather conditions resulted in the decline of food prices. Further, Agriculture is expected to post even higher growth rates due to good rains, thereby causing a ripple effect in the manufacturing and financial sectors.
The Government hopes to roll out the infrastructure required to put one million acres of land under irrigation and build abattoirs in each county as contained in Jubilee’s manifesto. This grand plan that will move the country away from rain-fed agriculture would require billions of shillings.
The infrastructure is to help attract the private sector to move in and do the actual farming. Development partners are already helping with construction of abattoirs.
Apart from attracting the private sector, the Government plans to seek donor funding to ensure that its plans take off.