Agriculture is the backbone of the Kenyan economy since it contributes about 25% of the GDP and employs 75% of the national workforce. Over 80% of the Kenyan population lives in rural areas and makes a living, directly or indirectly, from agriculture.
Although Kenya is one of the strongest economies in Eastern Africa, human development is low and poverty levels are high, especially in dryland rural areas. About 43.4% of the population lives on less than US$ 1.25 a day, the most vulnerable being pastoralists, the landless, and subsistence farmers, whose livelihoods depend on rainfed agriculture.
Kenya's population is growing fast, like that of most sub-Saharan African countries, from 31 million in 2000 to over 43 million in 2012, eroding any progress. Half the territory comprises of agricultural land but with its dry climate and growing desertification, only 20% is considered arable. Persistent climate shocks (droughts in 2009 and 2011) induce frequent food crises in the drylands, where herders and smallholders are too poorly equipped to be resilient. Population is much denser in high potential agricultural zones, leading to pressure on natural resources.
Many farmers cannot afford readily available, modern farming technologies such as improved seeds, fertilizers or irrigation. Less than 7% of Kenya’s cropped land is irrigated, mostly commercial estates while 83% of the territory is classified as arid or semi-arid. The profitability of climate-dependent smallholder farming is also impeded by poor institutions and infrastructure, and inefficient value chains.
Key documents on Kenya agriculture
Feed the Future Kenya factsheet
Rural country profile for Kenya (IFAD)