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Agriculture sector is again facing major crisis
as a 'dry spell' cuts production of major crops

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya’s mostly rain-fed agriculture sector is once again facing a major crisis as a dry spell cuts production of major crops.

Among the worst-hit are foreign exchange earners like coffee and tea, whose production has declined significantly following the six-month drought.

The east African nation’s residents are still waiting for the long rains season to start, over a month after they were expected to have begun.

The Meteorological Department has blamed the delay on cyclone Idai, which devastated Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

For tea, multinationals located in the Rift Valley and central Kenya have been forced to send some of their workers on leave after production of the crop fell due to drought.

Most companies are now operating at half optimum, according to Kenya Tea Growers Association chief executive Apollo Kiarie.

The sector employs some 50,000 workers directly and indirectly, with the devastating effects of the drought set to be much severe if the rains do not come sooner.

Kenya is among the leading producers of black tea in the world, with the sector earning some 141 billion shillings (1.4 billion U.S. dollars) from a record 492.9 million kg in 2018.

In February, however, the Tea Directorate projected that production would decline this year to 416 million kg owing to the bad weather.

For coffee, the current drought worsens production drop, which has fallen over the years from 130 million tons annually to 40 million tons, Coffee Task Force data shows.

Production of potatoes has also been affected, with Kenya now faces a shortage of up to 1.5 million tons, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Both seeds and tuber potato production have been impacted as the bulk of the crop, which is the second staple after maize, is grown under rain in Kenyan highlands.

With rains having being scarce in October to December in 2018 and expected to be the same in the March-May season this year, Kenya is facing a major potato crisis.

"Most farmers who grew potatoes in the October to December season did not do very well," said Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy.

"This year’s March to May season has already been disrupted which means most farmers may not farm for two seasons even if the rains come, which will hit production," she added.

Kenya produces an average of 1.5 million tons of potatoes annually, which earn farmers 460 million dollars, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, with 2015 having been the best year with an output of 1.9 million tons.

On the other hand, for livestock, animals, mainly kept in the rangelands in arid and semi-arid areas, are facing starvation due to lack of pasture.

Kenya’s agriculture sector employs close to 10 million people and accounts for about 51 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), 26 percent directly and 25 percent indirectly, through its links to other sectors, according to the latest World Bank data.

Agriculture is also responsible for much of Kenya’s exports, at 65 percent in 2017.

"The contribution of agriculture to real GDP growth has decreased from about 23.9 percent (2008-2012) to 21.9 percent (2013-2017) due to the impact of drought," the World Bank said in a report earlier this month.

Kenyans are already paying heavily for the weather shocks, with potato prices having doubled.

Some fear that Kenya’s economic growth this year may fall short of the earlier forecast of 6 percent due to the prolonged dry spell.


Kenya to import 200 million liters of milk from the East Africa Community

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya is likely to import about 200 million liters of milk from the East Africa Community (EAC) in 2019 in order to bridge the production deficit, the dairy industry regulator said on Wednesday.

Margaret Kibogy, managing director of Kenya Dairy Board (KDB) told Xinhua in Nairobi that Kenya is not itself sufficient in milk production due to rising consumption fueled by rising incomes and urbanization.

"We typically rely on the EAC trading bloc which has a liberalized trading regime to meet milk consumer demand," Kibogy said during the AgriFi Food Safety Program forum.

Kibogy said that imports from outside the EAC economic bloc are limited to specialized dairy products that are not available in the region in order to cushion the local dairy sector.

According to the milk regulator, Kenya processed approximately 648 million liters of milk in 2018.

Kibogy said that Kenya is implementing a number of measures to ensure that annual processed milk reaches the one billion liters mark by end of 2022 in order to stop milk imports.

She added that Kenya’s milk production increased in January compared to a similar period last year but production has been declining since February due to the ongoing drought.

KDB is currently training farmers on pasture conservation techniques in order to ensure they maintain milk production despite the ongoing dry spell.

Kibogy noted that Kenya’s milk sector is susceptible to changing weather patterns due to over reliance on rain for livestock pasture.

Kenya to strengthen food safety systems to boost public health

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya plans to strengthen its food safety systems in order to boost public health, officials said Wednesday.

Robert Kilonzo, head of food safety at ministry of health, told journalists in Nairobi that changing food preferences as well as emerging technologies have necessitated the modernization of the public food safety regime.

"Kenya is developing a new regulatory framework that will modernize the way all players in the food production value chain handle food," Kilonzo said during the AgriFi Food Safety Program forum.

AgriFi Food Safety Programme is a five year program that seeks to enhance Kenya’s national food quality safety system.

Kilonzo said Kenya is currently developing a law that will form the Kenya Food and Drugs Authority that will spearhead the country’s food safety standards.

He noted that the food safety control system is undertaken through a multi-sectoral approach and is implemented by various government ministries and regulatory agencies.

"However, the coordination mechanism among these institutions is currently inadequate which could have an impact on food safety in the country," he added.

The ministry of health said that Kenya is prioritizing investment in the national food safety control system to eliminate the recurrence of food borne illnesses in the country.

Kilonzo said that there will be increased focus on food safety by having sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards being adopted by value chain actors in food sector.

He observed that the bulk of players along the food chain have not established traceability systems in their operations.



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