From aid to trade in Kenya

Published on
November 10, 2020

Kenya's economy is growing. An increasing number of consumers are able to afford high-value foods such as healthy, good-quality vegetables, milk and fish. However, the agricultural sector can't deliver all of these products just yet. Together with Kenyan researchers and practitioners, in the 3R project WUR has collected evidence on how to boost sector growth. This input was used to convince governments and companies to collaborate and take action.

“What's special about 3R is that it wasn't just a research project," says Catherine Kilelu, who coordinated the project in Kenya together with Simone van Vugt from Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation and Ingrid Coninx from Wageningen Environmental Research. “3R is also a sector-development project that sought to actively engage and work with the private sector, including farmer organisations, ministry departments and agencies of the Kenyan government, and NGOs and consumer organisations", adds Van Vugt. The purpose of doing so was to trigger improvements on key bottlenecks that limit sustainability and competitiveness of the aquaculture, dairy and horticulture sectors. 


One of the bottlenecks in horticulture is food safety: fruit and vegetables in Kenya often contain pesticide residues or microbial contaminants, which is a danger to public health. “At the same time, there is a rising demand for healthy, safe vegetables, and our research shows that people are willing to pay more for these products", tells Joyce Gema, a Kenyan business woman an consultant who carried out action research in the project. “Now is the time for farmers to seize that opportunity."

Researchers from 3R discussed the issue with the government, which has since assigned more priority to food safety. A pilot project was carried out to explore the introduction of a food-safety assurance label for domestic horticultural produce, called Mazao Safi. The label puts farmers' focus more on the wishes of consumers, improves their agricultural practices and enables them to earn more. The label fits in with 3R's recommendation that consumer demand should have a greater influence in the work of farmers, companies and government in the sectors.

Locally owned innovation

The exploration of the label is an example of local innovation, says Kilelu. In other words, it is adapted to the conditions in Kenya and is driven by the local actors in the horticulture sector. “The requirements of international quality standards, which are geared to western markets, on farmers wishing to export their products are often too complex." The local label is manageable for farmers.

Resilient sectors require local solutions, concludes Ingrid Coninx of Wageningen Environmental research. “This resilience is desperately needed now that agriculture has to deal with the consequences of COVID-19 on top of locust swarms and climate change."

Involve the sector in governance

A recommendation from 3R is that businesses, farmers and consumers should be more involved in contributing to government policy and decision-making on regulations. In the dairy sector, in cooperation with the Kenyan Dairy Board, large dairy processors and other stakeholders, the 3R project managed to persuade the government to improve policy on the quality of milk, says Prof. Bockline Omedo Bebe, professor in livestock production systems at Egerton University, who participated in the research. Unsafe milk is a big problem for public health in Kenya. At the same time, dairy processors need better-quality milk to make better-quality and safe yoghurt and other dairy products. Farmers can earn more if they succeed in delivering better-quality milk. Research in 3R showed how this can be done, for instance through a quality-based payment system whereby farmers get a higher price for good-quality milk.

The 3R project concluded with a meta-analysis of the food system in Kenya by Wageningen and Kenyan researchers, summarising the result of four years of action research. Rose Makenzi, policy officer for food security and water at the Dutch embassy in Nairobi, which funded the 3R project: “We funded this research to identify the lessons, but another important aim was to bring people in the sector together and involve the Kenyan government in this. We are using the results from 3R to build evidence on which approach works. That is the basis for discussions with the government on this subject."​

Climate atlas aids adaptation

Climate change is having a major but regionally diverse impact on agriculture in Kenya. Temperatures are rising and, as a result, it will become too hot for some tomato or maize-growing regions to continue growing their produce in the future. Cultivation can be postponed until a cooler period, but then the weather is too dry. An online climate atlas provides local policymakers with useful information on the likely consequences of climate change in their areas. The atlas also gives the policymakers various options to support farmers in adapting to change, such as by subsidising irrigation.