Agriculture is the major contributor of the Kenyan economy. It is the leading economic sector, accounting for 25% 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.
These facts about Kenyan agriculture sector posses a number of challenges to the sector. The major challenges 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 farmers.
4. Pest and Diseases- Pests and diseases has 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 is caused by poor handling and storage facilities. Maize in eastern province have 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 have 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 farmers.
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.