Agriculture is the major contributor of the Kenyan economy. It is the leading economic sector, accounting for 25 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The sector also accounts for 65 per cent of Kenya’s total exports and provides more than 18 per cent of formal employment. Growth of the national economy is therefore highly correlated to growth and development in agriculture.
Kenya’s agriculture is mainly rain-fed and is entirely dependent on the bimodal rainfall in most parts of the country. A large proportion of the country, accounting for more than 80 per cent, is semi-arid and arid with an annual rainfall average of 400 mm. Droughts are frequent and crops fail in one out of every three seasons.
Kenya’s agriculture is predominantly small-scale farming mainly in the high-potential areas. Production is carried out on farms averaging 0.2–3 ha, mostly on a commercial basis. This small-scale production accounts for 75 per cent of the total agricultural output and 70 per cent of marketed agricultural produce.
The country’s food and nutrition security is often linked to the performance of the agricultural sector. The area of Kenya is 580,400 square kilometers but only 12 percent of the total area is considered to have high potential for farming and intensive livestock production. This potentially arable land is dominated by commercial agriculture with cropland occupying 31 percent, grazing land 30 percent, and forests 22 percent and the rest of the land is used for game parks, urban centers, markets, homesteads and infrastructure.
A further 5.5 percent, which is classified as medium potential, mainly supports livestock, especially sheep and goats. Only 60 percent land of Kenyan high and medium potential land is devoted to crops, such as maize, coffee, tea, horticultural crops, etc. and the rest is used for grazing and forests. About 84 percent of the total land in Kenya is classified as arid and semi-arid, mainly in the northern and eastern regions. It is estimated that the arid and semi-arid areas support about 25 percent of the nation’s human population and slightly over 50% of its livestock. Only 0.97 percent land of Kenya is used for the production of permanent crops.
The sad part is that more than 60 percent of people of Kenya live below the poverty line. This means that, they spend less than Sh.125 in a day or unable to afford to buy food providing a daily intake of 2,100 kilocalories. These people are asset less or have few assets and cultivating small pieces of land inadequate to sustain a living.
The economy of the country has been recovering over recent years. Kenya faces the classic food price dilemma, how to keep farm prices high enough to provide production strengthening motivations for farmers while at the same time keeping them low enough to ensure poor consumers’ access to food. Food price instability is another major problem in Kenya, which is frequently identified as a major obstruction to smallholder productivity growth and food security.
Rapid increases in inflation could reduce economic growth and worsen the poverty levels of the citizens of the country. Inflation, corruption, crumbling infrastructure and high inequality continue to hinder the nation’s development.
Malnutrition in Kenya is a major problem in the progress to build a healthy nation. It is not only a threat to achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Vision 2030 but also a clear indication of inadequate realization of human rights.
The solutions to malnutrition are practical, basic and have to be applied at scale and prioritized in the national development agenda. Kenya has climatic and ecological extremes with altitude varying from sea level to over 5,000 m in the highlands (in the south-eastern part of the country). Rainfall and temperatures are influenced by altitude and proximity to lakes or the ocean. The mean annual rainfall ranges from less than 250 mm in semi-arid and arid areas to more than 2,000 mm in areas with high agricultural potential.
In Kenya, about 24.4 percent of the population is urban in 2011. Unfortunately, half of these urban populations live in slums areas. Malnutrition is a major problem, particularly amongst the urban poor of this country. They have no bank account or personal savings; living conditions and education levels are very lower.
For the greater reliance on cash income and limited access to land for agricultural production, the urban poor may be more vulnerable to food and fuel price shocks than those in rural areas. At least 3.5 million urban dwellers in Kenyan cities have difficulty meeting their food needs on a regular basis.
In 2008, Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) expressed that in urban areas over 90 percent of food comes from markets, 59 percent of foods in the marginal agricultural areas of Kenya comes from market purchases, 37 percent from own farm produce, 1 percent from hunting and gathering, and 2 percent from gifts and food aid.
With collective efforts, ending malnutrition is both a credible and achievable goal. However, tackling malnutrition in all forms will require multi-faced actions across multiple sectors.
Action Against malnutrition addresses nutrition on several fronts: identification and diagnosis, treatment and nutritional care, prevention and risk reduction, strengthening capacity and sustainability, research and innovation and political impact This means that civil society organizations, donors and businesses –as well as Government–need to step up their efforts to direct more of the resources already invested in agriculture, education, food systems, health systems, social protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) towards nutrition.