Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Kenya - Experts Call for Urban Farming Policy

By Henry Neondo
Mr. Neondo is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya

Urban areas in Kenya are not only on the increase, but like those elsewhere in the world are experiencing an upsurge of people out for better livelihoods. But inadequate provision of clean and safe water, poor sanitation and dwindling space both for housing and farming and lack of policy on urban farming is making food in cities a scarce commodity as most of these cities have to rely on the dwindling rural areas for food...Henry Neondo reports

In 1994, 45 percent of the world's population lived in cities and according to the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, UNCHS-Habitat, it is expected that this percentage will increase to more than 50 percent by the year 2000 and to 65 percent by 2025.

The UN habitat says that the rate of urban growth is highest in Africa, at 4.4 percent a year, followed by 3.7 percent a year in Asia.

In 1990, 288 cities in developing countries had a population of more than 1 million people, housing some 814.5 million people. By the year 2000, there will be 391 such cities, housing 1146 million inhabitants.

The growth of cities will trigger important transformation in the countryside, as an increasing share of food production will have to be directed to feeding towns but with much less than half of the world population becoming suppliers of food.

Although increasingly urban agriculture is seen as a fashionable way for future supply of the food cities would require inexpensively, the developing countries would have to ensure adequate water provision, work on the problematic land tenure systems and ensure sustainable utilisation of the abundant natural resources.

Water is essential to good health and economic progress. Yet almost 300 million city residents in the developing world are without safe.

According to the Intermediate Technology Development Group, ITDG, providing close to 9 million Kenyans who live in urban areas with necessary infrastructures is proving a nightmare to the government.

Approximately 60% of the urban dwellers live in informal settlements and are often poor, living on less than a dollar a day.

In Nairobi alone, Kenya's Ministry of Housing, Roads and Public Works (in charge of housing) estimates that the urban poor make up 55% of the total population and occupy less than 5% of the total residential land area.

Nairobi's urban poor are not provided with adequate water because the government thinks they are unable or unwilling to pay for services.

Yet, according to UN-Habitat, they are often already paying a "price up to ten times higher" to private water vendors than their richer neighbours pay for water piped to their homes.

A report of 2000 by the World Water Resources Institute, WWRI, says that the internal renewable water resource for Kenya is estimated at 20 cubic kilometres translating to per capita per annum of 673 cubic metres. The ranking effectively puts Kenya in the "chronic water shortage state" category.

This is however projected to fall to 235 cubic meters by 2025 as the population is increasing and could be even less if resource base, constituted among others water catchment forests now less than 2% from 11% at independence of the total land mass, continues to deplete.

By comparison, neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania currently have 2940 and 2696 cubic meters respectively.

According to the Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA, a policy think tank, Kenya's water and wetland resources are estimated at 15 million square kilometres.

This is distributed as follows; Inland water surface 11, 200 square kilometres, underground abstraction 3, 115 million cubic metres per year countrywide with a mean yield of 5-8 cubic metres / h depending on the rock type.

Average annual rainfall is 567 mm which converts to 323 billion cubic metres per year. However water resources are unevenly distributed. In addition, Kenya is vulnerable to rainfall variability, droughts are now endemic and floods occur quite frequently.

WWRI report says that the 2.9% annual population growth and over-dependence on a diminishing water resource will push Kenya beyond the water barrier of less than 5 cubic metre per capita per annum by the year 2025.

Analysts link Kenya's socio-economic development goals to be highly dependent on availability of and quantity of water. For example, 65-70% of hydropower generation relies on water.

Demand is high and growing rapidly from many sectors of the economy. Current demand stand at 3900 million cubic meters per annum and is projected to increase to 5800 million cubic meters per annum by 2010.

With some places in Kenya getting an annual rainfall of less than 250 mm per year, scarcity of water in Kenya because of the limited natural endowment, pose a big challenge to the country's growing needs of increasing populations as well as serious water resources degradation.

The use of the national water resources vary from place to place but is estimated by the Kenya's Ministry of Water Resources to be distributed in use as follows, 65% agriculture, 18% domestic, 13% industrial and 4% other functions.

According to the ministry, an average of 49% of the population in rural areas has access to safe drinking water compared to 67% in urban areas.

Access to proper sanitation services is 81% in rural areas and 69% in urban areas according to a joint report by the Kenyan government and the UNEP of 2001

But the water resources face threats from pollution, siltation, reclamation, fertilisers and pesticides, weed attack such as water hyacinth and human-related activities.

Increasingly, pollution from municipal, industrial, mining and agriculture sources also continue undermining water supplies, causing high incidence of inadequacy and poverty.

Degradation of water resources is attributed by analysts at the IEA to be due to inappropriate farming methods that arise out of the excess pressure on land resources due to rise in population.

In addition, it is a common phenomenon in Kenya where water bodies are used as dumping site for domestic, urban, industrial and agricultural waste further polluting water resources.

Then there are the organic and inorganic liquid effluent, gaseous emissions and solid wastes mainly from factories near water bodies that further degrade water quality.

Sewage matter and garbage, sediment tailings from mines, from agriculture, urbanisation and industry continuously pollute water resources in Kenya

The end results are reduction in the land cover, soil erosion and heavy siltation, eutrophication, deoxygenation, and toxicity and habitat modification of the rivers and other water bodies

Most of these bad land practices are attributed to the absence of an effective legal policy and institutional framework to provide standards for water use and lack of incentives for good practices.

In order to improve food production, some farmers are increasingly turning to rainwater harvesting techniques with tangible benefits.

According to Kenya Rainwater Harvesting Association, KRWHA, a network of water harvesting activists and technocrats, the number of those using harvested rainwater for urban farming is on the increase.

Many uses the roofs catchment systems that offer limited collection surfaces to collect water but most are hampered by poor and inadequate storage facilities.

Thus 50% of those who use this means face hardship during drought due to inadequate storage capacities.

The KRWHA says that in most parts of the country, whenever it rains, people use whatever collection gadget they have which range from 2 litre kettles or sauce to 200 litre oil drums or those still traditional use clay pots with capacities ranging from 30-80 litres costing about USD 3-USD6.

Land Tenure And Settlement Structure

Land in Kenya has always meant different things to different people. To farmers and pastoralists land is property to be owned and a source of livelihood and access to land and controlling it are key concerns.

According to Odenda Lumumba, co-ordinator, Kenya Land Alliance, KLA, a network of institutions and individuals monitoring explosive land issues in Kenya, the elite considers land as a marketable commodity from which to male windfall profits through market speculation mechanisms.

As a nation, the public, politicians and administrators view land as a sovereign entity whose boundaries reflect a social, cultural and political identity.

To development agencies land provides goods and services required for people's welfare and prosperity.

Conservationists technically define land as a fragile, ecological entity resulting from mutual working of living and non-living things on the earth's surface.

These perceptions roughly often translate into different and often competing interests in land in Kenya.

Land is currently the most important resource from which the country generates goods and services for the people.

The national economy is primarily agro-based. According to the Kenya's ministry of agriculture, 90% of the 21 million of Kenyan people living in rural areas derives its livelihood directly from land.

To these people, land resources are the means to a livelihood determining the levels of prosperity or poverty, fulfilling social obligations and also conferring social status and political power.

Shift in policies, legislation and institutional land use practices have over the years brought about changes in the way land-based resources have been used in space and time.

But population increase, misapplication of modern technological innovations stifling indigenous skills, technologies, knowledge and practices, natural and man-made disasters and poor environmental regulations have simply magnified the resultant problems associated with lack of coherent policy framework governing land in Kenya leading to unsustainable land use.

During Kenya's pre-colonial times, land was in communal ownership. Nowadays, all land is in public or private ownership.

Public land is owned by either the municipal council or the central government and is either used for municipal and government purposes or leased out for a specified period to individuals for various predetermined urban land-use activities.

According to Prof. Saad S. Yahya, a consultant at the African Union, AU, and ITDG, land ownership has been a major issue in Kenya for a long time.

The struggle for independence was centred on getting land back from the white settlers. Even in post-colonial times, land issues have been dominant factor in the historical progression of the country's economic, social and environmental spheres.

"It is an indirect source of all material wealth and is valued because its possession confers security and livelihood, prestige and power", says Yahya.

Current land tenure system is a combination of English land laws and African customary laws. The co-existence of the formal written and informal (customary) systems can cause confusion.

The system seemingly evolved out of the initial superimposition of a settler economy over a territory in which various land laws and tenure systems already existed and the subsequent need to transform a former colony into a modern state where land and other resources are controlled by nationals.

There are three types of land tenure in operation in Kenya

Private Land

This refers to individual/private tenure where exclusively individuals or companies own land.

It is either freehold where the holder has absolute ownership or leasehold for a term of years subject to the payment of a land rent or certain conditions on development and usage.

Conversion from customary tenure to modern tenure usually takes place through three stages. First it starts with adjudication of individual or group rights under customary tenure to under the Land Adjudication Act.

Secondly, consolidation, where each individual or group has rights and is allocated a single consolidated piece of land equivalent to several units under the Land Consolidation Act.

Finally registration and entry of rights in the Record of Existing Rights or Adjudication Register in the Land Registry and the Issuance of a certificate of ownership.

Customary Land

Land under customary tenure is held communally. It is also known as trust land. Under this tenure, absolute rights over land were vested in the family group, while individuals enjoyed the right of occupancy only of subsistence purposes.

This type of tenure exists in areas that have not yet been transferred or alienated through registration. It is administered under the Trust Land Act of 1965, which deals with all trust land

It is the most widespread tenure system in Kenya especially in arid and semi-arid lands and is held under trusteeship by various county councils (local authorities) for residents.

It is however facing a lot of opposition in that it is said to discourage individual investment in land and its proper management. But Yahya opposes this saying there is sufficient evidence to support this.

Public land

This refers to land that is owned by the state for its own purposes or that which is unutilised or unalienated and is supposed to be reserved for public purposes until privatised. It is administered under the government Lands Act of 1965.

Recently there has been a rapid loss of public utility land as a result of allocation through presidential grants. This arbitrary allocation of public land has come to be called "land grabbing" by Kenyans.

The commissioner of lands deals with disposal of government land, which is then registered under the Registration of Titles Act or the Registered Land Act.

Land and Poverty

For traditional reasons, women are content to have the family land registered in the name of their husbands, sons or brothers, even if they contributed to the purchase price or inherited the property.

Ownership by women is however, more prevalent in urban areas where slum landladies and female entrepreneurs are a common phenomenon.

The close relationship between control of land rights, political power and ethnic dominance has climaxed, especially during the closing decade of the last century, in the eruption of intense hostilities between pastoralists and farmers, landlord and tenant, developer and conservationist, municipality and citizen.

Two commissions of enquiries have been formed in quick succession, one in the last years of the former president, Daniel Moi and the other by his successor, Mwai Kibaki who is only within a year into his presidency.

According to Yahya, security of tenure in Kenya is predicated on stability, respect for justice and human rights and a working judicial system.

Yahya says that poverty in Kenya is defined by the two million urban poor not merely in terms of low income but also in terms of exclusion from access to land and other resources.

Urban farming is highly dependent on the availability of space. Housing density more than population density determines whether farming in a certain residential estate is possible and to what extent.

To some extent, housing densities coincide with income levels, in the sense that high-income areas have generally low densities. However, low-income areas with quite low housing densities also exist.

Impact On Urban Farming And Recommendations

Kenyan City authorities take no pride in making their cities appear rural. Urban farmers face severe political and regulatory obstacles including legal action and confiscation of products as harassment by the city authorities are the order of the day to city traders who mainly derive their products from urban farms.

"Urban agriculture does not feature in the comprehensive urban development planning and management", says Isaac Mwangi, the National Expert of the United Nations Centre for Regional Development, UNCRD.

He adds that in fact all forms of crop and animal primary production in cities are not catered for and calls for their incorporation in urban land use planning and zoning.

Whereas cultivation of crops and keeping of livestock within the precincts of cities is gaining acceptance as an important contribution to food security among the urban poor, city planners in Kenya, he says should no longer hinder growth of this practice.

As a matter of fact, the planning and the structure of many urban areas in Kenya including Nairobi rules out any form of farming or livestock keeping.

According to Eric Kisiangani of ITDG "officially sanctioned and promoted, urban agriculture could become an important component of urban development and make more food available to the urban poor in Kenya besides providing employment in a moribund economy that Kenya is".

Nevertheless, analysts agree that the importance of urban and peri-urban agriculture cannot be downplayed. It is regarded as a practice that is growing out of its ability to assist, resolve or cope with diverse development challenges.

The Ministry of Agriculture acknowledges that food insecurity among the urban poor is rampant.

"Urban food security has become an important issue that requires a lot of emphasis from the government as well as the private sector," says Kenya's former Agriculture Minister, Dr Bonaya Godana.

In Kenya, Egypt, Mali and Tanzania, poor urban households will spend 60 percent or more of their incomes on food. City dwellers pay 10 to 30 percent more for their food than do rural inhabitants.

It is estimated by analysts at Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, IPAR, that the number of people obtaining part of their food from UA in six East and Southern African countries will rise from about 25 million to 40 million by 2020.

Analysts on urban farming call for urban farming to be integrated into cities' life, with city authorities assisting urban farmers by providing improved seeds, helping establish urban farming co-operatives and providing biological wastewater treatment processes.

When this is done, they say, city farming would be able to make a major contribution to the 'sustainable city' and localising agenda 21.

The starting point according to the KLA is reform in the national land policy and review land as the institutional framework created in 1950 and still operational in Kenya is inadequate.


UN-Habitat (2000)-city to city alliance campaign

ITDG publishing (2002) land, rights and innovation-improving tenure, security for the urban poor

World water research institute report 2000

Kenya Land Alliance (2000) Land use in Kenya,

Prof. Saad S. Yahya (2002) Community land trusts and other tenure innovations in Kenya

Government of Kenya (2001) ministry of water resource development-report of

UNEP/UNDP (1999) industries and enforcement of environmental law in Africa.

Mwichabe, S and B. Wafuksho (1999) the natural resources in Kenya. A description of the picture of now and the key driving forces. Scenarios for a common ground to shape the future of Kenya, institute of economic affairs, IEA.

Ogendo and Kosura (1995) land tenure and agricultural development in Kenya; ministry of agriculture.

Mwichabe S. (1996) a proposal for a national land and land use policy in Kenya. In people, land, laws and environment, KENGO/UNEP

Kenya rainwater harvesting association (2000) Kenya rainwater harvesting report

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Revised Thursday, October 28, 2003

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture