It is the mainstay of Kenya’s economy and the largest contributor to the nation’s GDP. Only 8% of the land in Kenya, however, is under agriculture – crop and feed production. The nation is the top producer of tea and coffee and the third-largest exporter of fresh produce such as cabbages, onions and mangoes.
When it comes pulses production in the nation, it is a similar story. Pulses hold a significant place in the Kenyan diet. It comes second to cereals in the list of the most important staple commodity in Kenya.
The African nation is the 7th leading producer of common beans in the world and the 2nd major producer in east Africa after Tanzania.
The nation, however, is trade deficit. Kenya’s import easily outpaces its export. In 2015, Kenya imported goods worth $16.2 billion (2015 est.) but only exported goods worth $5.679 billion (2015 est.).
The country’s export potential is clearly yet to be tapped. Especially when it comes to pulses export. The country’s production capacity has a wide scope for improvement. Major factors impacting the country’s production are poor soil fertility, inadequate agronomical practices and lack of access to seeds that can combat common diseases.
Going by official statistics, local farmers cultivate pulses on 1.47 million hectares and produced 758,000 tonnes in 2013. Dry beans are the most common pulse in Kenya, followed by cowpeas, pigeon peas and chickpeas.
With the demand for pulses skyrocketing, Kenya has been deliberating over ways to cash in. Driving the demand majorly is India. India is the leading producer, consumer and importer of pulses. The country has been reeling from the effects climate-induced changes.
For Kenya, India is a multi-million shillings market. To tap the demand, a roadmap has been set for the pulses sector.
Ministry of Industry, Investment and Trade Permanent Secretary Ali Ismail told a trade forum in Nairobi that the roadmap provides a detailed plan of action that will facilitate growth within the next five years.
“The purpose is to enhance production base of beans, peas and lentils due to their importance in ensuring food security in the country,” Ismail said during the launch.
Developed with the assistance of the International Trade Center, Ismail also stressed on the fact that pulses are key as they are an important source of income for millions of small scale farmers.
“They also help to reduce incidences of malnutrition among poor farmers,” Ismael said.
The Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC) has in fact decided to go ahead and recruit 100,000 growers to increase production so as to meet the growing demand in India. Kenyan farmers will be offered financial and technical support under the Supporting India Trade and Investments with Africa (SITA) programme. Under this programme, tariff barriers will also be reduced over three years.
What remains to be seen is if the African nation will be able to capture the highly coveted Indian market.