It is hard to miss. Kenya is developing fast yet the gap between demand and supply of food is projected to widen going forward. According to Institute for Security Studies report, annual agricultural production will need to increase by an estimated 75% levels in order to meet consumption in 2030. The agricultural sector in Kenya annually contributes 26% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) directly and a further 27% through manufacturing, distribution and service sectors. The sector employs over 80% of Kenya’s rural work force and provides 18% of formal employment. The crops, livestock and fisheries sub-sectors are the main components of the sector contributing 72%, 18% and 3% of the Agricultural GDP respectively. Kenya’s population is currently at 50 million people, which is growing faster compared to that of other lower-middle-income countries and upper-middle-income countries. By 2030 this is projected to have risen by 15 million. Studies by the World Food Program indicate that the number of people severely lacking food security in Kenya has risen to 3.4 million from August 2017 to February 2018 up from 2.6 million for February to July 2017. The number of people in need of immediate food assistance in Kenya dropped to 700,000 for August 2018-February 2019, down from 2.6 million people for February-July 2018. With an exception of the dramatic increase in agricultural productivity, Kenya will need to import more agricultural goods to meet the needs of the growing population.
Deterioration of food security mostly in the arid and semi-arid zones of the country has been the effects of climate change – present formidable threats to farmers and pastoralists. Other factors that contribute to low productivity in Kenya’s agricultural sector are the fact that only about 2% of arable land is equipped for irrigation, farmers struggle to gain access to adequate seed, fertilizer and other inputs, uptake of new technology is low and the result of poor rainy seasons affecting crop and livestock productivity.
Mr. Obwoge Lukio, a small-scale farmer in Nakuru, states that smaller farmers are not able to meet the high demand from the supermarkets and are excluded from the formal market. At the same time, supermarkets are importing groceries that could have been produced locally – with the right support. Mr. Obwoge specializes in mixed and poultry farming. High degree of dependence on agricultural imports renders countries vulnerable to fluctuations in global markets, increased national debt and variable weather patterns and this contributes to food insecurity. A spike in maize prices, for example, could leave many people in Kenya unable to purchase sufficient food.
People who are poor or who already face obstacles to obtaining adequate nutrition are particularly at risk of experiencing recurring food crises. Button and Oyster mushroom are on high demand in the country yet Kenya produces only 500 tonnes of mushroom per annum against an annual demand of 1200 tonnes both in hotels and home consumption, according to NAFIS (National Farmers Information Service). This prompts more importation of mushroom to the country, making the product expensive. Hence, a small proportion of the country’s population can afford this food which should be readily available due to the nutritional values and health benefits associated with them.
The low productivity of the agricultural sector is severe and while boosting the productivity of the agricultural sector alone will not solve the issue of food insecurity in Kenya, it will increase production and reduce the growing gap with consumption. Fertilizers for small holder farmers need to be subsidized. As soil fertility deteriorates, fertilizer use must increase. Government needs to ensure the right type of fertilizers are available at the right price and time. Making better use of IT, improving small holder farmers’ access to markets, regulation and governance, having functional public systems and investing in climate change adaptation measures are also critical measures to unlock the potential of the agricultural sector. It is through these efforts that Kenya will increase agricultural productivity, lessen its dependence on agricultural imports and, in turn, contribute to strengthening food security across the country.
Consolata Muhindi, Researcher – PHD in Finance Candidate, Jommo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, C.E.O of Splendid Mushroom Enterprise.