Building robust, reliable and resilient agri-food sectors in Kenya

Published on
July 10, 2019

​Milk quality is now firmly on the agenda in the Kenyan dairy sector. And in the horticulture sector, traceability and food safety are becoming a priority, not only in export-oriented production but in the domestic market too. Investments in the Aquaculture are possible and crosscutting issues are getting more attention. These are some of the results of ongoing collaborative research that Wageningen University and Research has done with stakeholders in the 3R project.

The 3R project aims to help build robust, reliable and resilient agri-food sectors in Kenya. It draws lessons on the transition from aid to trade and investment, by researching programmes funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Kenya and other initiatives that focus on market-led approaches to drive agri-food sector development. The insights from the research inform the collaborative efforts of stakeholders to improve the dairy, horticulture and aquaculture sectors in Kenya.

The 3R project is an applied research and sector-development project that started in 2016 and will  end late 2019. It is implemented by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in the Netherlands and by the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) in Kenya, in collaboration with partners in Kenya. It has received 3.9 million euros in funding from the Dutch Embassy in Kenya. Apart from research, the project also aims to stimulate stakeholder engagement and facilitate sector development.

Dairy sector

Milk quality and safety are persistent issues in the Kenyan dairy sector, and the cause of health losses and low revenues for farmers and other dairy chain actors. The 3R studies on milk quality have pushed milk quality and quality testing higher up the agenda. 'The Kenya Dairy Board, a key player in the sector, incorporated the lessons learned into its draft of new policies and regulation on milk quality,' says Simone van Vugt, coordinator of the 3R project at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation. A Quality Based Milk Payment System (QBMPS) could be used to get consumers to pay a higher price for milk, which would cover the costs of producing safer milk. A 3R study of the systems done together with Happy Cow, a Dutch-owned dairy company in Kenya, revealed that higher pricing for safe milk could lead to improved revenues for farmers and dairy chain actors, and to improved public health. However, the cost-benefit analysis shows that the QBMPS is not yet a viable way of financing itself under current conditions in Kenya.


Food safety is also becoming a pressing issue in the horticulture sector. Unsustainable use of pesticides results in too high levels of residues in fresh fruit and vegetables. While traceability and food safety standards are already in demand for export-oriented horticulture, and checks have been implemented, the 3R research is putting these issues on the agenda for the domestic market too.

The research has been instrumental in shaping the dialogue on the development of new national traceability and food safety standards. In 2019, hotels and schools in Nairobi will start an experiment in which they use traceability systems when buying fresh fruit and vegetables to ensure their supply of safe and quality produce, inspired by 3R studies. Another result is a climate atlas that visualises the impact of climate change, which is being used by county officers as part of a decision support tool.


A comparative study done by the 3R team draws lessons from the aquaculture sectors in Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana, countries with a larger aquaculture sector. There is potential for more domestic tilapia and catfish growing in Kenya, but the sector needs support. Investments in infrastructure are needed to boost production and reduce postharvest losses, as are investments in improved access to inputs, credit, markets and capacity building. Institutional governance of the sector should be strengthened, through well-formulated policies. In a roundtable discussion on the results of the study held in March 2018, representatives of the State department of Fisheries and private-sector representatives including producers, input suppliers and investors actively engaged in the discussion on how to use these lessons to strengthen the sector.

Insights for policy makers

Drawing from the insights of the studies and the expertise in the 3R team, cross-sectoral policy briefs were requested by the Dutch embassy in Kenya. These briefs formed the basis for discussions held in 2018 with the Food and Nutrition Security team of the Dutch embassy on the new multi-annual country strategy. By the end of 2019, the 3R team will produce a meta-analysis on the outcomes of the 3R project, at the food system level.