Kenya Land Reform and Rural Transformation Overview

Kenya Land Reform and Rural Transformation Overview

The process of land reform has become highly politicised to the extent that it is threatening to derail the country’s economic development. In Kenya, land translates to power, especially in higher levels of government where officials use their positions in the state to access land. Bureaucrats, who are usually appointed by the President to head the Ministry of Lands, work to retain control of the land registries in order to benefit the political elites who acquire land through irregular and informal transactions, abusing state power.[1] This is a major constraint for rural development and has exacerbated inequality in land distribution.

The majority of the rural poor who depend on agriculture-based activities for their livelihoods have limited access to land. Access to land has always been at the centre of Kenyan politics. It was one of the main causes of the 2007/2008 post-election violence.[2] During the electioneering period, political leaders from the Kalenjin tribe used the land issue to arouse fear in their communities, arguing that the Kikuyus would take away their land when they ascended to power. These pronouncements led to the forcible evictions of communities widely perceived as outsiders, and the dispossession of land in the rural areas of Nakuru[3].

Under such circumstances, the main argument given for land reform and improving land administration was to reduce the centralisation of power from the executive level, which was widely perceived as corrupt, manipulative and self-serving.[4] As a result, in 2009, government adopted the National Land Policy (NLP), in order to address the long-standing grievances regarding land. Overall, the NLP seeks to protect land rights with special consideration for women’s rights to own land.[5] It is estimated that women make up 51% of the total population in Kenya but it is difficult for them to own land. It was recently reported that women received less than 2% of the title deeds given out by the government since 2013. In fact, the Cabinet Minister of Lands admitted that the country has no data of land ownership by women.[6] Yet, it is women who are the backbone of both the rural and national economies, comprising 75% of the agricultural labour force.[7] The NLP is led by the Constitution of 2010, which calls for the decentralisation of land administration and management systems. More importantly, it requires that all policy, legal and institutional mechanisms of land management, comply and conform to the Constitution in a manner that supports the objectives of the national development plan’s Vision 2030. The Vision 2030 is a plan that seeks to transform Kenya into a middle-income country with high quality of life by the year 2030. In this plan, land reform is identified as a priority, particularly because land is considered to be the driving force for key economic sectors such as agriculture, tourism, transport, forestry and fishing, energy and mining. Taken in its entirety, land reform will serve as the foundation for the implementation of projects identified in Vision 2030[8].

A 10% annual economic growth rate is envisaged under the economic pillar of Vision 2030. This forecast may be enabled by the agricultural sector through the transformation of subsistence farmers from smallholders to enterprises marked by growth in innovation, modernisation and commercialisation. This goal will be achieved through the following changes: The first involves the promotion of agricultural growth and may be achieved through the transformation of key agricultural institutions and the increase in the production of crops, livestock and tree cover. Secondly, the implementation of land-use policies which aim to improve the usage of high- and medium-potential lands. Thirdly, the development of irrigable areas for crops and livestock in arid and semi-arid lands. Fourthly, by improving supply chain management, market access for smallholders will increase, resulting in an increase in the value of products sold in local, regional and international markets[9].

Agriculture as the leading sector in Kenya’s economy contributes approximately 30% to GDP and employs more than 80% of the labour force in rural areas.[10] Small-scale farmers produce around 75% of the total agricultural output and 70% of marketed agricultural produce.[11] But they face various constraints along the value chain due to lack of technologies, finance, poor access to commercial markets, poor infrastructure and climate change.[12] In recent years, both the government and private sector have increased their support to the agriculture sector.

The government has developed the Agriculture Sector Development Strategy (2010-2020) to improve productivity, ensure food and nutritional security, and create jobs in rural areas. Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, in partnership with development partners such as the World Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and European Union, among others, is implementing a number of ongoing projects targeted at agricultural productivity to enable rural transformation.[13]

Rural transformation is important for unlocking Kenya’s agriculture potential. Presently, rural transformation is used as a mechanism to introduce new technologies that will improve profitability and productivity in the agriculture sector.[14] In recent years, Kenya’s agricultural sector has been praised for its innovative approach. Kenyan agriculture is primarily grain-fed and with the negative effects of climate change in this sector, it has now become necessary to introduce agriculture technology to improve productivity among small-scale farmers in rural areas. For example, climate-smart farming practices, are integrating nuclear techniques to help Kenya improve its soil fertility and water management technologies[15]. This forms part of the introduction of Integrated Soil Fertility Management to improve agricultural productivity. It is argued that such methods can help maintain the right water, nutrient and carbon balance and maximise climate change adaptation in agricultural systems.[16]

With Kenya’s rural economy being primarily based on agricultural related activities, and with an increasing population coupled with very limited land holdings, the dependency on agriculture as the sole source for livelihoods is at risk. This calls for new alternative livelihood models and strategies for achieving economic growth. In addition to climate-smart farming practices, the government introduced fish farming in rural areas as a way for farmers to earn additional income.[17] Although fish farming is successful in Asian countries like China, in Kenya, the results could be better if there were more financial resources to boost the sector. According to Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), “a lack of quality seeds and feed are the main drawback in fish farming, thus denying thousands of people an opportunity to create wealth through this enterprise.”[18]

There is a strong correlation between the growth of the national economy and development in the agricultural sector. The importance of agro-technologies to modernise agriculture and enhance overall productivity cannot be overemphasised. Heavy reliance on rain fed agriculture increases the vulnerability of farming systems, used by small-scale farmers located mainly in rural areas. Climate change is a reality and the country needs to move in the direction of technology-based agriculture, just like Israel and Australia, to ensure food security and decrease poverty levels in the country. The land reform agenda as envisioned in the Constitution of 2010, needs to be implemented to the letter, as this will be the biggest test on the sincerity and commitment of the political class to reforms, especially on matters of land.  If countries like Botswana have managed to successfully implement land reform programmes to achieve agricultural productivity,[19] then it is possible for Kenya to do the same, provided that policymakers uphold good governance principles and implement good policies less focused on political agendas.


[1] Klopp, J.M. and Lumumba, O. 2017. Reform and Counter-Reform in Kenya’s Land Governance, Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 44, No. 154, pp.: 577-594. Available At: [Last Accessed: 27 May 2018].
[2] DN 2017. ‘Land Question: The Elephant in the Room’, on the Daily Nation Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from
[3] Klaus, K. and Mitchell, M.I. 2015. ‘Land Grievances and the Mobilisation of Electoral Violence: Evidence from Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya’, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 52, No. 5, pp.: 622-635. Available At: [Last Accessed: 27 May 2018].
[4] Boone, C., Dyzenhaus, A., Ouma, S., Owino, J., Gateri, C., Gargule, A., Kloop, J. and Manji, A. 2016. Land Politics Under Kenya’s New Constitution: Counties, Devolution and the National Land Commission, London School of Economics and Political Science: London. Available At: [Last Accessed: 27 May 2018].
[5] MoL 2009. Sessional Paper No. 3 of 2009 on National Land Policy, Kenyan Ministry of Lands: Nairobi. Available At: [Last Accessed: 27 May 2018].
[6] Mwanza, K. 2018. Less Than Two Percent of Land in Kenya Issued to Women Despite Legal Gains, on the Reuters Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from
[7] WB 2017. Employment in Agriculture, Female (% of Female Employment), on the World Bank Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from
[8] VDS 2007. About Vision 2030, on the Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat’s Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from
[9] VDS 2007. About Vision 2030, ibid.
[10] ARDHI 2016. National Land Use Policy, Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning: Nairobi. Available At: [Last Accessed: 27 May 2018]; Muhatia, A. 2017. Safaricom to Fund Agri Tech Startup, on The Star Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from
[11] D’Alessandro, S., Caballero, J., Lichte, J. and Simpkin, S. 2015. Kenya Agriculture Sector Risk Assessment, World Bank: Washington, D.C. Available At: [Last Accessed: 27 May 2018].
[12] GoK 2010. Agricultural Sector Development Strategy, Government of Kenya: Nairobi. Available At: [Last Accessed: 27 May 2018].
[13] MoAI 2018. Projects, on the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from
[14] Rugalema, G. and Colussi, A. 2017. Kenya’s Potential in Agriculture Lies in Rural Transformation, on the Inter Press Service Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from
[15] Quevenco, R. 2015. Greening Kenya’s Drylands through Climate-Smart Agriculture, on the International Atomic Energy Agency Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from
[16] Quevenco, R. 2015. Greening Kenya’s Drylands through Climate-Smart Agriculture, ibid.
[17]  Tran, M. 2011. Kenya Puts its Faith in Fish Farming, on The Guardian Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from
[18] Nabukeya, J. 2017. Feature: Kenyan Experts Urge Investment in Aquaculture to Boost Food Security, on the Xinhuanet Website, viewed on 27 May 2018, from http:/
[19] Dawood, G. 2016. Chapter 3: The National Land Reform Programme and Rural Development, Fiscal and Financial Commission: Midrand. Available At: [Last Accessed: 27 May 2018].




Hellen Adogo

Former Junior Regional Analyst

Vuyelwa Nkumanda

Former Regional Analyst

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