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A recent assessment by the World Bank found that by 2030, serving the food demands of Africa’s growing middle class alone will create a market worth $1 trillion (Sh 103 trillion). African “agri-preneurs” can own that market if we tap the two assets that should be an unbeatable combination: the world’s largest population of young people, and the world’s largest holdings of uncultivated arable land. In fact, Tegemeo Institute has conducted a study that has found access to land could dramatically increase youth participation in agriculture, particularly for young women farmers. There are about 1 million youths entering the labour market annually. They can contribute to significant food security in Kenya if they are gainfully employed in agriculture where increasing population, low agricultural productivity and decreasing arable land in the high and medium potential areas are a threat to food security. Their participation in agriculture has however been constrained by limited access to land in the rural areas. Unlike the rural areas, innovative urban farming takes place even on 0.25 acres of land. This allows rearing of poultry, rabbits and having green houses in urban areas where land is scarce. Such innovative approaches can involve the youths more especially where land is scarce. Involvement of the young people in farming requires development of a positive attitude towards agriculture. This will help reduce unemployment among the youths because political and social consequences of unemployed youths can be extensive as witnessed by political unrest globally. This would involve equipping youthful agri-preneurs with relevant skills to build a sustainable and resilient agricultural innovation system that will respond to unique challenges within their counties. Such skills coupled with access to land enable the youths to participate actively in farming.

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Dairy is an important industry in Kenya contributing about 14% of the agriculture GDP and 4% of the National GDP. It supports more than one million smallholders and plays a critical role in food and nutrition security through milk consumption and increased household incomes. The sector is regarded as a success case in Kenya due to the following factors: First, the sector supports a large proportion of small holders since about 80% of milk is produced by smallholders. Secondly, it is commercially-oriented creating employment both in the formal and informal milk chains through linkages; and finally, it has potential for more growth both domestically and regionally due to the high milk consumption levels in Kenya and unmet demand in the region. Thus, the sub-sector has the potential of playing an important role in improving the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. However, realization of the sector’s potential has continuously been faced by many challenges as documented in several papers and reports. Some identified farm-level challenges include high cost of production, declining land sizes, consumer concerns about milk quality and safety, lack of good quality animal breeds, and poor husbandry and farming practices, among others. 

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Zoning of blended fertilizer coupled with improved management of the distribution system involving the private sector can increase access to subsidized fertilizer by resource poor farmers in Kenya. The use of fertilizer is generally expected to increase crop productivity among cereal growing farmers. Majority of the small holder farmers who produce about 64% of maize in Kenya are resource poor. Land which is their main factor of production is suffering from declining soil health due to continuous use in maize and wheat production. To ameliorate this situation, the government has introduced a fertilizer subsidy program in an effort to enhance food security through increased cereal production and productivity in Kenya. Fertilizer accounts for about 30% of the cost of production and has the potential to increase yields by 50%-75%. In order to increase access at a lower cost, the government has been supplying subsidized fertilizer to motivate its use. However, the approach used in supplying the fertilizer has not been effective in reaching needy farmers who do not have access to the input. This has raised concerns whether the national subsidy programs achieve the intended purpose. Fertilizer use or the lack thereof by Kenyan farmers is an issue that has received varied attention from practitioners in the agricultural sector.  

The program intended to encourage fertilizer use, support local fertilizer manufacturers and strengthen fertilizer distribution. The private sector imports about 600,000 tonnes of fertilizer annually and can only sell if the government imports of about 500,000 tonnes delays. While the government alone can meet the annual national fertilizer demand, its resource base is limited, therefore, the need for private sector involvement. Its partnership with the Toyota Tsusho company will further reduce the cost of fertilizer by 40%. Supplying the right fertilizer will be incumbent on the firm producing the appropriate fertilizer for specific soils. The expansion of the subsidy program to cover other crops such as tea, coffee and sugarcane will impact negatively on the private sector’s share in the fertilizer market. The significant reduction of their returns due to decreasing sales margins will drive out from the fertilizer market those actors who cannot breakeven. In a research study focusing on farmer participation in the fertilizer market, Joyce Makau a Research Associate at Tegemeo Institute found that the national fertilizer subsidy has a potential of displacing commercial sales from the market and this reduces farmers’ likelihood to participate in the commercial market by 30 percent. On average, every ton of subsidized fertilizer distributed by the government displaces 200 kilograms from the commercial market. The situation may worsen due to the deepening of budgetary allocation to the fertilizer subsidy program in Kenya. In essence, the government will end up being the sole actor supplying fertilizer in the market and this has potential risks.

The major risk include the existence of elite capture in the fertilizer subsidy program where those benefitting are the educated, wealthy, male-headed households and those with large land sizes and high non-farm incomes rather than the worse off. This implies that the current distribution system of subsidized fertilizer is benefiting households who can afford commercial fertilizer. Earlier studies by Tegemeo had previously shown that only 9% of farmers receive subsidized fertilizer. Of these, 60% are from the high income group. The poor and the middle income households received 4.2 kg and 3.5 kg disproportionately less subsidized fertilizer, respectively.  This is an indication that Kenya’s national fertilizer subsidy does not favor resource-poor households. This raises questions as to whether the program beneficiaries are households who truly need the fertilizer rather than those who are well connected. Other risks are fertilizer adulteration and weak infrastructure in terms of roads and credit access received significantly less subsidized and commercial fertilizer.

Therefore, redesigning the current national fertilizer subsidy program becomes an important option. One strategy that will enhance access of subsidized fertilizer might be the zoning of the required fertilizer based on soil maps in the country that shows the distribution of soil nutrient demand. This alongside the use of the redeemable e-Voucher system which is more transparent subsidy management that will enable the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Development and Fisheries to establish a network of dealers, reduce the cost of distribution of the product to farmers and create a database of stakeholders particularly the private sector. Moving forward, the use of e-procurement by farmer groups or at county level needs to be explored if farmers are to access the appropriate fertilizer for their soils.


Writer Joyce Makau, Research Associate, Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development.

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A large majority of the communities living in the land under communal land tenure have used customary laws to manage and utilise the land. Under customary law, communities had established well respected boundaries and did not possess formal titles to land. Formalisation process, which started under colonial rule, introduced the title deed as a formal document recognised under law that sufficed as proof of ownership over land.

From the colonial period, successive government administrations have promoted privatisation on land tenure in areas under communal land tenure. Individuals or group of individuals (in the case of group ranches) were issued with a title deed that guaranteed formal land rights over against such lands. The rest of the land under communal land tenure was classified as trust lands. Under the old constitutional dispensation, these lands were under the local government, while in the new constitutional dispensation are under the National Lands Commission and County Governments.

However, communal lands under trust face the most serious threat in guaranteeing land tenure security. Since 1960s, the trusteeship by local governments had always been abused. For instance, local leaders and politicians and individuals who were well connected with the local elite were able to alienate land and formalise by way of acquiring title deeds in areas under communal land tenure, a fact well documented in the Ndungu Report of 2004. Further, communities were never involved in decision making when plans, both development and land use plans were made. This only served to increase land tenure insecurity with the community fearing displacement every time a project on their land is mooted.

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In Kenya, 67% of the total land is under communal land tenure, and supports about a quarter of the country’s population (10 million persons) and 70% of the livestock population. A large majority of these lands are characterised by arid and semi-arid conditions such as high temperatures and low rainfall. As such they have been inhabited by pastoral communities who practise extensive livestock production systems that are well-suited to these conditions. These communities have used communal land tenure to manage the lands. Communal land tenure systems not only facilitate this type of livestock keeping but also play a key role in determining the social, economic and political status of pastoral communities.

From the colonial period, pastoralism has been misunderstood by the authorities. The colonial government implemented land policies such as the East African Royal Commission 1953-1955 and the Swynnerton Plan of 1954, which advocated for individualisation and privatisation of land tenure. They viewed pastoralism as retrogressive, inefficient, and did not lead to investment in land. Instead private land tenure was seen as the best form of promoting investment in land and improving productivity. They argued that private and individual tenure was a key step towards improving environmental conservation, reducing herd size and improving livestock breeds, thereby improving productivity and livelihoods.

The post-independence government maintained these policies and further, the Lawrence Report of 1966 recommended privatisation of land tenure in pastoral areas. With support from donors, the government in the 1960s and 1970s established group ranches starting in the now Kajiado County, before spreading out to other Maasai lands i.e. Narok and Laikipia Counties and further to other pastoral communities. Although the formation of group ranches was inconsistent with the pastoral communities cultural norms of land ownership and access, for example, the Maasai believed that land was a birth right accessible to all, they did not oppose the formation of group ranches mainly because they wanted to protect their ancestral land from “outsiders” and the government also provided additional incentives such as provision of water and disease control. Despite the establishment of group ranches, the communities used customary laws to manage the land. For example, the elders became leaders of the ranches and communities maintained cultural access norms with no restriction on use of land. On the other hand, land that was not adjudicated was held in trust by local governments on behalf of the communities in those locales.

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Kenya is one of the few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to experience an impressive rise in fertilizer use following a series of input market reforms in the early 1990s. Two major consequences of these reforms were declining fertilizer marketing margins and distances between farmers and fertilizer dealers. We quantify the effects of these changes on commercial fertilizer use and maize production in Kenya by estimating fertilizer demand and maize supply response functions using nationwide household survey data. Our results indicate that between 1997 and 2010, the estimated 27% reduction in real fertilizer prices that can be attributed to falling marketing margins associated with market reforms led to a 36% increase in nitrogen use on maize fields and a 9% increase in maize production resulting from both yield and acreage effects. On the other hand, decreasing distances to fertilizer retailers from the perspective of a given household did not appear to raise fertilizer use or maize supply, although a comparison across households using average distances over the panel indicate that those closer to retailers do apply more fertilizer on their maize fields.

See Working Paper here ...


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Policy makers and development experts believe that irrigation is the panacea to frequent drought related crop failure and to meet the demand for cheap and stable food supply in Kenya. The country has experienced heavy crop losses associated with drought in the years 1980, 1984, 2000, 2008, 2009, and 2011(WFP, 2011). Since 2009, the government set out to reduce reliance on rain-fed production by investing KES12.5 billion into rehabilitation of irrigation schemes in the country. This report reviews existing literature on irrigation in the World and provides views by experts on the potential for irrigation and its major challenges. The review considers policy on irrigation and the past investments to elicit lessons which could inform research for new policy on irrigation in Kenya. The findings show that local experience with irrigation development in most public irrigation schemes is bad. The UN advises caution on large-scale irrigation in pastoral areas which could cause significant environmental degradation and low economic returns despite heavy subsidies, while undermining the pastoral economy. Avery (2013) argues that irrigation in semi-arid areas will be challenged by high solar radiation and temperatures, and dry winds that desiccate soils and crops. Experts have raised many questions in literature reviewed which include; what is the nutritional quality of irrigated crops not have been bred in semi-arid areas? How are local markets (supply and demand) going to be affected by the increase in supply of maize? What criteria will the government use to allocate water? What will be the impact of irrigation on the river ecology (hydrology, onsite soils, water tables, water logging, salinization, sodication, nitration, wildlife, micro-organisms, pests and diseases, genetic diversity, etc)? What will be the social and political impact of an influx of workers from other ethnic groups into the regions being developed for irrigation? What is the ex-ante economic surplus of the project? What is the opportunity cost of maize irrigation compared to alternative livelihoods like pastoralism? What is the policy on land and water use rights for investors, stakeholders and minority ethnic groups especially the Watta, Orma and Giriama living in Galana/Kulalu? What will be the effect of large-scale irrigated maize production on the market considering its potential effect on maize producing regions in Western Kenya?

See the Policy Brief here ...


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