Welcome to Kenya and agriculture is the second largest contributor to Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP), after the service sector. In 2005 agriculture, including forestry and fishing, accounted for 24% of GDP, as well as for 18% of wage employment and 50% of revenue from exports. The principal cash crops are tea, horticultural produce, and coffee. Horticultural produce and tea are the main growth sectors and the two most valuable of all of Kenya’s exports. The production of major food staples such as corn is subject to sharp weather-related fluctuations. Production downturns periodically necessitate food aid—for example, in 2004 aid for 1.8 million people because of one of Kenya’s intermittent droughts.
A consortium led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has had some success in helping farmers grow new pigeon pea varieties, instead of maize, in particularly dry areas. Pigeon peas are very drought resistant, so can be grown in areas with less than 650 mm annual rainfall. Successive projects encouraged the commercialization of legumes, by stimulating the growth of local seed production and Agro – dealer networks for distribution and marketing. This work, which included linking producers to wholesalers, helped to increase local producer prices by 20–25% in Nairobi and Mombasa. The commercialization of the pigeon pea is now enabling some farmers to buy assets, ranging from mobile phones to productive land and livestock, and is opening pathways for them to move out of poverty.
Tea, coffee, sisal, pyrethrum, corn, and wheat are grown in the fertile highlands, one of the most successful agricultural production regions in Africa. Livestock predominates in the semi-arid savanna to the north and east. Coconuts, pineapples, cashew nuts, cotton, sugarcane, sisal, and corn are grown in the lower-lying areas. Kenya has not attained the level of investment and efficiency in agriculture that can guarantee food security and coupled with resulting poverty (53% of the population lives below the poverty line), a significant portion of the population regularly starves and is heavily dependent on food aid. Poor roads, an inadequate railway network, under-used water transport and expensive air transport have isolated mostly arid and semi-arid areas and farmers in other regions often leave food to rot in the fields because they cannot access markets. This was last seen in August and September 2011 prompting the Kenyans for Kenya initiative by the Red Cross.
Kenya’s irrigation sector is categorized into three organizational types: smallholder schemes, centrally-managed public schemes and private/commercial irrigation schemes.
The smallholder schemes are owned, developed and managed by individuals or groups of farmers operating as water users or self-help groups. Irrigation is carried out on individual or on group farms averaging 0.1–0.4 ha. There are about 3,000 smallholder irrigation schemes covering a total area of 47,000 ha. The country has seven large, centrally managed irrigation schemes, namely Mwea, Bura, Hola, Perkera, West Kano, Bunyala and Ahero covering a total commanded area of 18,200 ha and averaging 2,600 ha per scheme. These schemes are managed by the National Irrigation Board and account for 18% of irrigated land area in Kenya. Large-scale private commercial farms cover 45,000 hectares accounting for 40% of irrigated land. They utilize high technology and produce high-value crops for the export market, especially flowers and vegetables.
Kenya is the world’s 3rd largest exporter of cut flowers. Roughly half of Kenya’s 127 flower farms are concentrated around Lake Naivasha, 90 kilometers northwest of Nairobi. To speed their export, Nairobi airport has a terminal dedicated to the transport of flowers and vegetables.