Agriculture is the major contributor of the Kenyan economy, accounting for 25% of the
gross domestic product (GDP). It also accounts for 65 per cent of Kenya’s total exports
and provides more than 18 per cent of formal employment hence growth of the national
economy is therefore highly correlated to the development of the agricultural sector.
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. Kenya’s
agriculture is predominantly small-scale farming. 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
The Kenyan agricultural sector possesses a number of challenges that can be
summarized as follows:
1. Climate change – The effects of climate change has been felt mostly by the farmers
especially due to dependence on rain-fed agriculture. The changing and unpredictable
raining seasons has greatly affected their ability to plan their farming activities. Areas
which received adequate rainfall now receive insufficient rainfall reducing the land that
can support agriculture. This brings the need for more exploitation on irrigation farming
especially in ASALs. It is estimated that intensified irrigation can increase agricultural
productivity fourfold and, depending on the crops, incomes can be multiplied 10 times.
2. Extension services- The agricultural sector extension service plays a key role
in disseminating knowledge, technologies and agricultural information, and in
linking farmers with other actors in the economy. The extension service is one of the
critical change agents required in transforming subsistence farming to a modern and
commercial agriculture to promote household food security, improve income and
reduce poverty. However there is limited access to extension services in most parts of
the country with the National extension staff: farmer ratio standing at 1:1,500. This
situation has hindered most farmers from keeping pace with changing technological
advances. There is therefore need for recruitment of more extension staff and the
involvement of NGO’s to increase access of extension services to farmers.
3. Use of outdated technology – Although Kenya has a well-developed agricultural
research system, use of modern science and technology in agricultural production is still
limited. Inadequate research–extension–farmer linkages to facilitate demand-driven
research and increased use of improved technologies continue to constrain efforts to
increase agricultural productivity as farmers continue to use outdated and ineffective
technologies. This brings the need of extension services that can link research and the
4. Pest and Diseases- Pests and diseases have continued to cause a lot of losses to
farmers. This is caused by lack of information by the farmers on how to control these
diseases. Post-harvest losses are caused by poor handling and storage facilities. Maize
in eastern province has been affected by afflatoxins in the past due to lack of during and
storage facilities. Extension services can be instrumental in helping reducing pre and
post-harvest losses caused by the above.
5. Use of inputs- Most farmers lack information on the right type of farm inputs to use
and the appropriate time of application of the same. The cost of key inputs such as seed,
pesticides, fertilizer, drugs and vaccines is high for resource-poor farmers. Most farmers
therefore do not use them. This greatly reduces the yield that the farmers get.
6. Soil nutrient deterioration- The rising population density has contributed to
the subdivision of land to uneconomically small units. In addition, the reduction of
fallow periods and continuous cultivation has led to rapid depletion of soil nutrients,declining yields and environmental degradation. These farmers need information on the
right farming practices aimed and restoring the soil nutrient. This can be provided by
extension and advisory services.
7. Poor infrastructure- Poor rural roads and other key physical infrastructure have
led to high transportation costs for agricultural inputs and products. It also leads to
spoilage of perishable commodities during transportation. This causes high losses to
This list of challenges facing Kenyan agriculture and farmers is not exhaustive. They
are however the major challenges that can be solved if effective extension and advisory
services accorded to farmers especially small scale farmers.
The government also has a big role to play in solving some of these challenges like the
poor infrastructure, strengthening research, extension and training and
enhancing farmer access to affordable inputs and credit.
Most of the challenges are caused by lack of information and knowledge on how to
avoid them or how to solve or circumvent those that cannot be avoided. I believe that
extensions and advisory services have a big role to play in alleviation of most of these
challenges as highlighted in the above discussion.