Current state of micro and small enterprises in horticulture in Kenya
Horticulture is one of the most dynamic sectors of Kenya’s economy, currently contributing a third of the value of agricultural output. Fruit and vegetables make up between a quarter and a third of exports. Eight out of ten horticultural producers in Kenya are operating as micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSEs). These MSEs employ almost seven million people and provide 80% of domestic food production in the county. MSEs in horticulture value chains are essential in making Kenya’s food systems more nutrition sensitive by increasing the availability, accessibility and affordability of safe nutritious foods. They are strategically positioned to reduce the risk of unsafe foods from production to the market, and unhealthy diets attributed to shifting consumer preferences and dietary habits towards increased consumption of ultra-processed foods. These changes have negative effects on the country’s nutritional security; a quarter of the Kenyan adult population is overweight of which three million are clinically obese.
Most MSEs operations in Kenya are informal, fragmented and unorganised (ref) which influences investments in horticulture. Due to their limited financial capital and low volumes and standards, farmers often rely on informal channels to sell their products. The MSEs usually have inadequate knowledge and skills, technology to increase productivity and consistent supply of quality products, lack affordable cold chain infrastructure, have limited direct connectivity to markets and face competition from large horticulture industry. These small holders often lack financial and institutional support necessary for growth. For instance, the production cycle for fruit and vegetables is short, owing to their perishability, MSEs would hugely benefit from increased chain-wide coordination to minimise loss and waste. Further, the limited knowledge of regulations and standards in the sector creates concerns about the safety of their food production, handling and preparation practices. Recent food safety scandals have stressed the importance of having control on these value chains, which often penalises MSEs unable to deliver consistent quantity and quality to supermarkets.
Is there hope?
Kenyan horticultural development has been on the political agenda for several decades. The national government has put forward several policies and frameworks to transform the sector into a more commercially oriented and inclusive one: The Agricultural Sector Development Strategy 2010–2020 and Vision 2030, for example. However, experience teaches us that informal markets are too often a blind spot for governments. It is vital that future stakeholders work together to develop the MSEs in fruit and vegetable value chains. An inclusive approach that invests in MSEs across the value chains can help to drive the food systems transition and contribute towards the Kenya Nutrition Action Plan goal of optimal nutrition for all for a healthier and better quality of life to improve productivity and acceleration the country’s socio-economic growth. Besides having the potential to improve nutrition, MSEs in the informal sector are capable of empowering women and young people through employment and income generation, and raising their quality of life.
Cohort 1 fellows of the African Food Fellowship in Kenya are collectively taking actions to address governance and structural weaknesses in the horticulture sector to improve its performance. The actions of the system leaders contribute to addressing questions about; how to reach, support and assure MSEs operating outside current regulatory frameworks? Can we enhance their provision of quality to traders and formal markets? What is the best way to build a resilient sector inclusive of MSEs? Here is what they have to say:
"I have been involved in reviewing the agriculture and veterinary school curriculum. I used this opportunity to highlight the insights gained from this fellowship and to influence decisions so that the food system understanding becomes embedded in the learning institutions." MSE Fellow, Kenya Cohort 2021
Do you have solutions to support MSEs and untap their potential for feeding a healthier population? Apply for the second cohort of the African Food Fellowship.
Sources of information
- Ndemo, B., Mkalama, B. 2019. Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in Kenya: Current State, Opportunities and Challenges. TH Tambunan, Development of MSMEs in Developing Countries: Stories from Asia, Africa and Latin America, 3, 236-250.
- MOH, KNBS, WHO. 2015. Kenya STEPwise survey for non-communicable diseases risk factors report. https://statistics.knbs.or.ke/nada/index.php/catalog/24
- Chemeltorit, P., Saavedra Y., Gema, J. 2018. Food traceability in the domestic horticulture sector in Kenya: An overview. Practice brief 005. Wageningen University & Research. Wageningen.
- Gema, J., Keige, J., Chemeltorit, P., Ngetich, T., Moreno Echeverri, I., Saavedra Gonzalez, Y., and Koomen, I. (2018). Catalysing food safety in the domestic horticulture sector in Kenya: The potential link between export production and evolving domestic supply chains. Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen University & Research. Report WCDI-18-051. Wageningen.
- Laibuni N, Onsomu E, Nyabaro V, Munga B. 2021. Exploiting job creating potential for youth in the horticulture industry in Kenya. Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPA). https://repository.kippra.or.ke/handle/123456789/3265. Policy Brief; No. 08 of 2020-2021
- Agriculture and Food Authority, AFA. 2017. Creating Wage Employment in Horticulture Sector in Kenya.Agriculture and Food Authority.iiASDS, 2010. Agricultural Sector Development Strategy, 2010-2020. Government of Kenya
- MOH. 2018. The Kenya Nutrition Action Plan (KNAP) 2018-2022. Optimal nutrition for all. https://www.health.go.ke