Published by the Sustainable Agriculture Programme of the
International Institute for Environment and Development
Lessons from Kenya
GATEKEEPER SERIES No. 45
The following footnotes accompany this Gatekeeper:
1. The southern part was made into the separate Makueni District in 1991.
2. Agro-Ecological Zones (AEZ) are based on rainfall, temperature and evaporation, and soil properties.
3. The direction of change shown by the official data also conformed, in orders of magnitude, with information
taken from five different groups of community leaders, and with farm studies carried out at different times. We
had the impression official data often lagged behind reality, particularly in recording production in areas of new
and unofficial settlement.
4. This initially led to the increased erosion visible on the land in the centre foreground above the lower road
in Plate la.
5. The remaining section of this paper follows closely material in Chapter 17 of Tiffen, Mortimore and Gichuki,
forthcoming, More people, less erosion: Environmental recovery in Kenya, Wiley.
6. A study of Kenya cooperatives is revealing in this regard (Gyllstr6m, 1991).
The Gatekeeper Series of the Sustainable Agriculture Programme is produced by the
International Institutefor Environment and Development to highlight key topics in the field
of sustainable agriculture. The Series is aimed at policy makers, researchers, planners and
extension workers in government and non-government organizations worldwide. Each paper
reviews a selected issue of contemporary importance and draws preliminary conclusions of
relevance to development activities. References are provided to important sources and
background material. The Swedish International Development Authority and the Ford
Foundation fund the series.
Mary Tiffen and Michael Mortimore are Research Associates of the Overseas Development
Institute, Regents College, Regents Park, London NW1 4NS. Francis Gichuki is head of the
Department of Agricultural Engineering, University of Nairobi, Kenya. The research on
which the paper is based was funded by the World Bank, the Overseas Development
Administration of the UK (ODA) and the Rockefeller Foundation. Field work was undertaken
with a team often researchers from the University ofNairobi in 1990, and reported in a series
of ODI Working Papers, in 1991-2. The synthesis and development was then undertaken by
a team of three and has been published as Tiffen, Mortimore and Gichuki, 1994, Morepeople,
less erosion: Environmental recovery in Kenya, Chichester, UK: Wiley.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
2 GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
POPULATION GROWTH AND
POLICY LESSONS FROM KENYA
Conflicting Views on Population Growth
Almost the only agreed view on population growth is that in many countries it is inevitable,
given the present age structure of the population, even if more families adopt family limitation.
There is strong disagreement on whether population growth can be compatible with income
growth per head, and with the conservation of natural resources. The pessimists take their
views from Thomas Malthus, whose first essay was published in 1798. They see natural
resources as finite and believe, therefore, that more people have to make do with smaller shares.
This applies also to government services, such as education. Simon (1986) calls this the 'capital
dilution' effect. A second strand in the Malthusian view is diminishing returns to the same
input if technology is held constant. Malthus viewed new technology inventions as accidents
which could not be counted on.
An alternative view, expressed by Boserup (1965) in relation to agriculture, and by Simon
(1987) about industrial societies, is that more people contribute to the generation of new
technologies. Boserup saw new technologies being as impelled by the need to replace long
fallows as population increased. She also viewed population growth as ultimately leading to
cheaper transport, easier marketing, and more specialisation. This would lead to the growth
of local towns, and more profitable agriculture, provided there were no cheap imports. Simon
saw that more people interacting with the existing large stock of ideas and technologies would
spark off new technologies and improvements, so that resources could be improved, substitut-
ed, or economised.
Although both Boserup and Simon emphasise, in different ways, the pressure of necessity in
stimulating new technologies, the importance of incentives is also implicit in their thinking.
People take up a new technology, which has perhaps been invented by someone else, because
they think it will be profitable and will enable them to improve their standard of living. Farmers
seek change to achieve greater food security and for better clothing, schooling, housing, etc.
Although some new technologies will come from their own experimentation, a far larger
number will come from other people: via their observations of what other farmers are doing,
via traders who suggest a profitable new crop, via research and extension services, or through
the introductions of churches and other non-governmental organizations. Hence, the more
open an economy is to freedom of trading and to reach and discuss many sources of information,
the more innovative it is likely to be. A society without trade is much more limited, in the
incentives which people have to make improvements, in their means to make the necessary
savings to implement change, and in the information base.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
As population density increases, the cost per user of infrastructure and services decreases. This
is most evident in the case of roads, but also applies to institutions that spread information,
whether these be schools, extension services, or missionaries promoting a 'green' message.
It also applies to traders' overheads, enabling them to offer higher farm gate prices.
The beneficial interactions between population growth, growth in output per head, and
improvements in environmental status, have recently been studied for the period 1930-1990
in Machakos District, Kenya, through research by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI),
London, and the University of Nairobi. The outcome of the study shows not only improvement
of the environment. It also conflicts with other common beliefs, for instance, that there has been
little increase in agricultural productivity in Africa, that increased commercial production
harms food supplies, that investment in semi-arid areas does not pay as well as investment in
more humid areas, that out-migration is all negative, and that development depends
overwhelmingly on government initiative and aid support. It finds considerable progress,
much of it generated by local effort, in the relatively supportive policy environment provided
by Kenya. This paper summarises the results and then discusses the extent to which the
Machakos District experiences could be replicated elsewhere.
More People, More Output and Less Erosion: 1930-1990
Machakos District is inhabited by the Akamba people. Its northern edge lies some 60 km from
the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. From there it stretched in 1990' some 300 km south east, with
its southern border about 260 km from the chief port, Mombasa. The greater part of the District,
as defined by its 1990 borders, is semi-arid, with only about 8% lying on more humid hills.
The climate is characterized by great annual variability. There are two rainfall seasons, with
only a 60% chance in either season that it reaches 250 mm. This must be well distributed and
is the minimum needed for a decent crop of the preferred foodstuff, maize. Making the most
of erratic and limited rainfall is essential for reasonable yields.
In 1930 there were estimated to be 240,000 people in the 'Reserve' area to which the Akamba
were confined in the colonial period, before independence in 1963. Of this about 4,600 km2
was inhabited in 1930. In addition, the Akamba were permitted, on payment of licence fees,
to graze Crown Land in the Yatta Plateau. In calculating the output per km2 shown in Table
1 we divided district output by the area they had settled or were allowed to graze. This was 7,000
km2 by 1961, less in 1930. After independence, the Akamba recovered lands to the north and
south of the Reserve to which they had always felt entitled. The former European ranch land
in the northwest of the District also became partially open to settlement. Thus, total land
available expanded to 13,600 km2. However, while most of the Reserve area was either
relatively high potential land (AEZ 2&3, the marginal coffee land), or medium-potential land
(AEZ 4), much of the additional land was AEZ 5 & 6 (officially deemed most suited to livestock
and millet).2 Therefore, the average quality of land available for farming fell after 1960. By
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
1990 the whole of the District was settled, and almost all was under private ownership whether
used for grazing or for arable crops.
The Increase in Output and Income
Table 1 shows that by 1990 the population had grown to 1,400,000, and had spread into the
more arid areas. Despite the addition of AEZ 5 & 6 land, Figure 1 shows that over time output
per head has risen more than three fold, and per km2 about eleven fold, (when agricultural
output is converted to maize at the exchange value between maize and other products at
constant 1957 prices). This gives a measure of changes in the volume of output.
One source of output data was the District Department of Agriculture's Annual Reports, which
were compiled from about 1974 using the same methodology. We selected two years with
average weather (ie. one good and one bad season), 1977 and 1987. For earlier data we were
dependent on a rough estimate made for the 1930 world agricultural census, a more detailed
estimate made by the Agricultural Officer in 1957 (a very good year climatically), and a sample
survey by transect in 1960-61 (unfortunately a very bad year climatically). Average production
at this time was probably between the levels for these two dates. The results are shown in Figure
1. While the data is rough, the orders of magnitude of the increase in productivity are probably
approximately correct. This is confirmed by the two pairs of photographs shown in Plates 1
and 2. These were taken in 1937 and 1990 respectively, and confirm that it is highly likely that
the value of output per hectare had risen eleven times in the interval.3
Table 1. Population totals and percentage in each agro-ecological zone
Year Total Population Percentage of Percentage of Percentage of
population in population in population in
AEZ2&3 AEZ 4 AEZ5&6
1930 240,000 36 55 9
1990 1,400,000 22 35 36
Figure 1 understates output, since fuel and timber are not included. (Fruit is included with
vegetables in the horticultural output). A cursory inspection of Plates 1 and 2 shows that trees
have been planted for many purposes, including environmental protection, fruit production,
fuel wood, timber sales, as shelter, and to define boundaries. Some, on the hill tops, are the
result of Forestry Department activities; other moist hill tops have private wattle plantations.
Most trees are on private land. Our investigations did not reveal any evidence that fuel wood
availability was more less in 1990 than earlier (Mortimore, 1992).
Figure 1 illustrates that output per head of food has remained fairly constant, although subject
to the vagaries of the weather. Machakos still imports some food from other districts in bad
years and needs food aid after successive severe droughts, as in 1984-5. However, our best
calculation is that maize imports and aid per capital declined from an average of circa 17 kg
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
Figure 1: Output per head and per km2 in constant 1957 maize values:
(a) Output per head; (b) Output per km2
1930 1957 1961 1977 1967
1930 1957 1981 1977 1987
S-5 40----------------- ^--
1930 1957 1961 1977 1987
r Food crops Cash aop HorouHure [ UvMtock
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
per head annually in 1942-62 to about 7 kg per head for a larger population in 1974-1985.
Machakos has no natural advantage for maize production but farmers know that prices will
rise steeply in bad years. Many of them aim to produce enough for family needs, and are
increasingly able to achieve this. Due to the growth of a non-farming population, food sales
have become profitable. Some farmers also deliberately put a high proportion of land to a cash
crop, such as coffee, and rely partly on purchased food. Coffee is only feasible in AEZ 2 and
3. These farmers form a market for nearby farmers in AEZ 4 and 5. In the early 1960s, AEZ
4 farmers were reported to put little effort into a second crop after an exceptionally good
harvest, as sales were not profitable and long-term storage was risky. This left them short of
cash for purchases if the third season was poor.
The value of output is affected by changes in relative prices. One kg of coffee purchased a large
amount of maize in 1957, when coffee production was in its infancy and prices high. It
purchased much less maize in 1987, when the coffee price relative to maize had fallen.
Consequently, many farmers increased production of fruit and vegetables. By the 1980s these
went to expanding local markets, Kenyan towns, and abroad. However, the recorded increase
in horticultural output did not quite compensate for the fall in the coffee price. If we use current
prices, for 1977 and 1987, rather than constant 1957 prices, it appears that value of farm output
may not quite have kept up with the 3% per annum increase in population in this period
(although value of output per hectare continued to rise).
The advantage of production for the market is that it generates a multitude of non-farm jobs
for processing, packing, transporting and retailing. It puts money into the pockets of farmers,
who create a local demand for better housing (see Plates 1 and 2), furnishing, clothing,
educational and health services, etc. This in turn creates local jobs. In 1929 there were only
85 Akamba-owned shops in the Reserve. In 1987 the local authorities received licence fees
from 8,000 shops and kiosks. Also, some farmers required additional labour to improve their
farms or to help at peak times. By 1981-2, only 50% of rural income in Machakos was from
farming (Table 2). More of the off-farm income was local than in the 1950s, when most men
who needed work had to go outside the district, remitting part of their earnings home. A study
in 1962-3 (Heyer 1966) showed that this was then a much more profitable use of their time than
producing unsaleable food crops.
The Means for Change
Analysis of the transformation shown in Plates 1 and 2 indicates the requirements for change
were firstly, the means and the incentive to invest money and work in farm improvement, and
secondly, knowledge of new and appropriate technologies.
Investments for Improved Farming
The Akamba follow a normal investment strategy of investing first in the things that they
perceive to give the highest reward, and later in those things that give a smaller reward. They
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
Plate la and lb. The Iveti Hills, near Machakos town
Plate la was taken in 1937, when the area already had a population density of 100/km2. Barnes, the Soil
Conservation Engineer who took the photo, said it showed continuous native cultivation to the left of the white
buildings, (a school), showing dark. In the centre between the two gullied water courses above the road and right
up to the line of trees on a higher road he noted an eroded area. Just above the lower road numerous small gullies
can be seen starting out of abandoned or closed agricultural plots. (Photo: courtesy of Kenya National Archives).
Plate lb shows the cultivated area extended, terraced and productive. The hedges and woodlots started in 1937 are
still there, but trees and houses are more numerous. The gullies are largely revegetated, although there is still one
patch of eroded grazing land. Population density in 1989 was 654/km2. (Photo: M. Mortimore).
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Plates 2a and 2b. Kiima Kimwe hill
Plate 2a Kiima Kimwe hill in 1937. Barnes notes that all fields are showing signs of soil slip and erosion, often the
top of a field hardly having a crop while the bottom was yielding better. He called hillside cultivation, often on slopes
steeper than this, the biggest problem in the Reserve and asked whether the 'natives' would ever put the same energy
into protecting their hillsides as they put into dances that lasted most of the day and night. (Photo: courtesy of Kenya
National Archives). The answer appears in Plate 2b. Woodlots and boundaries carry quick-growing exotic trees, and
on the terraces appear bananas and other fruits. Embankments are maintained with care, and planted with fodder
grasses. Prosperous looking homesteads give a hint of the rise in productivity. (Photo: M. Mortimore).
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
saw that investment in education gave a high return, enabling young men (and subsequently,
also young women) to get good jobs. The young were expected to use part of their earnings to
help their parents, and to make investments in family enterprises. The second investment was
often in a non-farm enterprise, such as a shop or a transport vehicle. This gave a higher return
than farming land such as that shown in the 1937 photographs. In the area shown in Plate 1,
a few kilometres outside Machakos town, surplus grains and livestock could be marketed.
People had begun investing in ox ploughs and teams, to extend their cultivation4 and to hedge
some grazing areas. The third investment, therefore, has generally been in the improvement
of arable land and the enclosure of grazing. The fourth, which is more recent, involves other
measures to improve grazing lands, which yield less per hectare than arable land. As the
population increased, more grazing land has been converted to bush and more intensive
methods of feeding livestock, using crop residues and fodder-crops, have been undertaken.
Table 2: Farm and non-farm income estimates (percentages)
Farm income Non-farm Wages Remittances
9 80 22 63 113
1981251 17 245 95
Notes and Sources
1. Perberdy (1961, Table VI, Calculation of Total District Income plus subsistence production). 1960 was a
bad year, so farm income may have been higher in an average year.
2. Refers to carvings only. There were some other non-farm businesses, so this is under-stated.
3. Wages: earned in District. Remittances: 20% of wages earned outside District.
4. Kenya. CBS. Economic Survey, 1988, Table 3.12. Machakos District. Total household income: Ksh
10,368. 1981 had a severe drought in the short rains, affecting the early 1982 harvest, but good long rains.
5. Wages no information on whether internal or external. No "Remittance" heading. It is assumed this was
included under remaining heading, "Other sources".
The slow pace of improvement was such that, between 1940 and 1960, the Government
considered it necessary to embark on a compulsory programme of communal work, digging
contour (or narrow-based) trenches and planting grass on the many eroded hillsides. Soil from
the trench was thrown downhill, and officials considered this as the most appropriate
technology given the shortage of labour. The intention was to prevent soil erosion by draining
excess water off safely, while at the same time conserving some of the water in the ditch.
However, people found these structures needed a lot of maintenance. They were apt to overtop
and collapse in heavy rainstorms, causing damage to the terraces below. The ditches needed
cleaning out each season. Although the conserved water percolated to the bank, which grew
the best crops in dry seasons, cultivating crops on the bank weakened it.
The Akamba adopted an alternative, more labour-intensive technology, thefanyajuu terrace.
In this, the soil is thrown uphill, as the first stage of forming a forward-sloping or level bench
terrace. The ditch is then at the back of the terrace, and the water in it percolates through to
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
the crops on the terrace. This type of terrace was demonstrated by a Soil Conservation Engineer
near a school in 1938, but was then officially abandoned in favour of the narrow-based terrace.
It was next mentioned in a 1948 report as being used for onion growing by an Akamba soldier
who had seen it in India; in the early 1950s it was noted as popular for tomato growing. By
the middle 1950s most of the terracing was being carried out by work groups with their own
elected leaders, who chose this technology. Previously, supervised communal labour used the
technology as directed by officials.
At the same time, communal work was being invested voluntarily in feeder roads. The towns
of Machakos and Nairobi were expanding, and there was a profitable demand for vegetables
to satisfy. Bench terraces were then officially promoted for coffee-growing, which became a
permissable crop in the mid-1950s for supervised African farmers. Farmers also adopted
benches for the main food crops, maize and pulses, since yields were clearly better on terraced
Terraces have been built in three main ways:
compulsory communal work (most of these were narrow-based terraces later replaced
by a voluntary investment infanyajuu);
voluntary work groups, where members rotated round each others farms until each had
terraces (this was common in the late 1950s but has also been used since by poorer
hired labour, financed by livestock sales, off-farm work, or farm profits.
Hired labour is preferred by those who can afford it, since the terraces are built at the time of
choice, and family labour is reserved for more directly profitable activities. There has been,
therefore, both capital formation by direct labour investment and monetary investment. The
greater part of the cost, which is the labour involved, has been borne by the farmers themselves.
Most of the existing terraces, as shown by aerial photographic evidence, were built between
1961 and 1978 when there were no special aid programmes. However, during the period 1946-
1962 and 1978-86 there were official programmes which supplied some of the necessary
capital, in the form of free tools distributed to the work groups, and technical advice and
training. Perhaps half the new terraces built from 1980-85 received some type of assistance.
As with terracing, tree planting in this semi-arid area often requires substantial investment:
to dig large planting pits and to acquire manure and planting stock. Cut-off drains have been
built to carry water to the head of terrace systems and small dams have been made to water
vegetable plots. Other investments have been in improving housing, seen in Plates 1 and 2,
whose roofs catch water for human and livestock use, and in solidly constructed granaries,
which store grain from one season to the next.
Sources of Knowledge
Some of the required new technologies and knowledge of new markets have come through
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
official research and extension, particularly a drought-resistant maize variety (which farmers
now use, often in combination with thier own varieties), methods of combatting coffee-berry
disease, coffee co-operatives and marketing structures, livestock health measures and some
trees and fodder grasses. Other innovations have come though farmers' own experimentation
and observations they have made during their travels. Service abroad in the Second World War
seems to have been a particularly fruitful source of new ideas, but others have come from travel
within Kenya in pursuit of work or trade. Others have been introduced by traders, particularly
from two canning factories and those trading in vegetables for export. Indian traders initially
sought supplies of preferred foods for their own communities in Nairobi, and later also exported
them to Indian communities abroad. Other ideas have come from educated relatives and from
NGOs, often church-connected. The Akamba self-help groups have learnt how to capture aid
from these bodies.
The new technologies have to be evaluated and managed, and the products have to be marketed.
Literacy, numeracy and general knowledge are increasingly useful to find non-agricultural
work, to make the most of a farming enterprise, and to operate the various social and
commercial networks. Initially, secondary education was rare and expensive, provided only
on a boarding basis to a scattered clientele. Now, day schools are commonplace, although fees
and contributions are still a heavy parental burden. School teachers are amongst the educated
leaders and information-bearers in every village. Schools are usually built by self-help. Table
3 gives an idea of the very substantial community investment in education between 1958 and
Table 3: School infrastructure, 1958 and 1987
Total Government Church
1958 Primary* 264 112 152
1987 1,287 n.a. n.a.
1958 Intermediate 44 20 24
1958 Secondary 3 n.a. n.a. n.a.
1987 218 40 150** 28
Four years in 1958; 8 years in 1987. Intermediate schools were equivalent to upper primary.
** Categorised as 96 assisted Harambee, 54 pure Harambee. These include church-linked schools.
Source: Peberdy (1958) and Kenya Ministry of Planning, 1988.
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Policies and Replicability
An important question is whether the Machakos experience is replicable by growing
populations elsewhere. It has certainly been replicated elsewhere in Kenya. A recent
comparative study of Kenya and Tanzania found very rapid growth of cash crop production
by smallholders from the middle of the 1950s (when colonial policies began to favour this) until
the late 1960s in both countries. Thereafter, output continued to grow rapidly in Kenya, (well
in excess of population growth) but stagnated in Tanzania. Both countries have had rapid
population growth (although densities have always been lower in Tanzania, making transport
infrastructure more expensive). They have a similar range of agro-ecological zones. Bevan et
al (1993) find that the difference lies in different pricing, marketing and educational policies.
They conclude that there is a strong diffusion effect, whereby farmers copy each other and move
into more profitable activities, which can be supported by educational policies. The direct price
effect (the proportion of the world price of a particular commodity which government allows
to go to the farmer) also has a significant but smaller effect on production. They also point out
that this indirectly contributes to the disequilibrium between the profitability of different
activities which leads to changes in farmer investments.
There is no evidence that specific pro-agricultural policies, either pricing or invest-
ment, have played much direct part in augmenting agricultural production. There is,
however, evidence that policies can severely damage, indeed completely arrest, what
could otherwise be a vigorous autonomous process of smallholder growth (Bevan et
al, 1993: 99).
The Machakos study confirms the autonomous effects of an increased population, deriving
from the availability of more mouths (more demand), more hands (more labour), and more
brains (more people interacting more), accompanied by a reduction in the per capital costs of
physical and social infrastructure, as shown in Figure 2. The dashed lines show where these
autonomous effects can be assisted or impeded by government interventions and policies. This
can, in the worst case, weaken the forces which promote investment in appropriate new
technologies, fructified by improved information and increased management ability.
Machakos has certain advantages, including its relative nearness to Nairobi and Mombasa.
However, these towns developed because the Kenyan economy developed as its population
expanded. Kenya as a whole has the further advantage that it has never suffered a major
breakdown in law and order and the horrors of civil war, which can put development into
reverse. Machakos also has some major disadvantages, including its low and variable rainfall
and low average soil fertility. Its relatively successful seizure of new opportunities therefore
owe much to the relatively favourable policies of the Kenyan government, which are replicable
We now examine these policies5.
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Figure 2: Positive effects of population growth
--- can be increased or impeded by government action
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
Policies to Encourage Investment and Technology Development
An inevitable consequence of population growth is a changed land-labour relationship and an
increase in demand for food and other goods (see A in Figure 2). The increasing scarcity of
land leads to investments in its improvement. We emphasise the importance of the mainly
unrecorded investments (M) which farmers make in response to changing circumstances,
provided government policies do not shut them off from incentives, opportunities and new
sources of knowledge and capital, and provided that peace and security are maintained to
facilitate trade, travel and investment. These investments yield the highest benefit when
combined with new, appropriate technologies (L), and can help address the changing
dynamics of the situation in which people find themselves.
Encouraging private investment through market growth
Private investment in agricultural intensification is unlikely to be sufficiently stimulated by
subsistence agriculture, since people have aspirations which require cash and, in a semi-arid
environment, need to make provision against risk through a diversity of income sources. If
agriculture is unprofitable, they are likely to migrate out. Conservation and intensification
require the incentive of profit.
Policies that raise farm-gate prices are therefore the single most important action required from
governments that want to encourage good land management, since they provide the means and
the incentives for investment. Governments need to do all they can to ensure that the forces
flowing from accessible markets (H) act as strongly as possibly on (L) and (M). This means,
on the one hand, taxing exports at a modest level and ensuring that the bulk of the world market
price reaches the farm-gate and, on the other, ensuring that marketing costs are as low as
possible, with a competitive structure having either many private buyers, or both government
and private alternatives. It means removing controls that increase costs to the buyer or seller,
or that prevent the seller from switching into more profitable commodities when circumstances
change. The Kenyan Government has followed the policy of passing on the bulk of the world
coffee price to farmers, although taxation increased in the 1980s. Horticultural crops are
virtually uncontrolled and have a very competitive trading structure. The grain trade has
suffered over-regulation, which has added considerably to the costs of inter-district trade, and
deterred farmers from specialisation. Under pressure from donors this was being liberalised
in the 1990s. On the whole, Kenyan policies have been more favourable to the farmer than those
of many African governments which have in effect taxed tradeable products highly.
Specialisation by different districts in the products in which they have comparative advantage
is likely to increase profitability, and the decision how far to aim at self-sufficiency in food at
the farm level should be left to individuals' judgment of their particular circumstances. It is
likely that they will usually err on the side of caution, and maintain a diversity of crops that
will provide some safeguard against the vagaries of both the weather and the market.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
Increasing knowledge, management capacity and skills
The main requirements here are, first, increasing access to sources of knowledge and second,
increasing capabilities in using technologies, selecting and evaluating them, judging market
opportunities and managing institutions in which people combine to raise capital or to organise
trade. We give many examples of the way the Akamba actively sought new technologies and
new opportunities. The top-down approach of the colonial government largely ignored this,
and measured success in terms of their compliance with the government's directives.
Farm managers must judge the trade-offs amongst different alternatives in obtaining risk
minimisation, profit maximisation, fertility maintenance, draft energy supply, etc. The
selection of appropriate technologies is, therefore, assisted when local farmers participate in
the definition of problems and their research and development. This is facilitated by
representative institutions and handicapped by their absence. Consultation, demonstration,
modification can seem slow processes compared with a top-down approach, which at its worst
involves compulsion, and at its best a single message carried by an extension worker. However,
the washed-out narrow-base terraces of 1961 at the culmination of 20 years of top-down activity
serve as a reminder that the 'expert approach' can lead to the waste of time and resources. The
adoption of a community development approach to terracing in the mid-1950s was the start
of progress. But the lesson of Machakos does not imply that bench terraces should automat-
ically be adopted everywhere.
The bench-terrace story is one illustration amongst many of the wisdom of offering farmers
not one 'best' technology, but several, which they can evaluate and select in accordance with
their needs. Another is the selection of a cheap and sufficiently adaptable plough, which came
through market forces. A diversity of technologies is supported by a diversity of sources of
information and the policy of openness to foreign NGOs and trading companies which Kenya
The capacity to select, evaluate and manage can be increased by both formal and informal
educational experience. On the formal side, this means support to schools, adult education
classes, agricultural research and extension, and a community development service that brings
knowledge and management skills to communities who want to develop amenities or non-
agricultural businesses. On the informal side, out-migration for work or small-scale trade
provides information and capital flows to the home farm. Kenya has not, on the whole, impeded
free movement of people to jobs, and has generally provided conditions of peace and security.
This has enabled the generation of ideas through observation and the development of new skills
through practice in new situations. The out-migrant who is well-equipped by education has
the best opportunities of transmitting information and capital back home. This emphasises the
importance of supporting education in disadvantaged regions with low population densities
and poor market connections.
The poorer members of society are inevitably least able to afford educational costs and are,
therefore, the most dependent on the informal education that comes from experience.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
Restrictions on the often-despised 'hawking' block one opportunity whereby such people can
travel, make useful observations, and from that, develop an enterprise. The Akamba are noted
for their manufacture of and trade in wooden carvings (by men) and sisal baskets (by women).
Cross frontier travel has become more difficult and, at various times, Nairobi City Council has
severely restricted informal pavement sales. This diminishes the beneficial interactions
between (G), (H) and (K) shown in Figure 2.
Facilitating saving and formal credit
Governments often attempt to tackle the capital shortage directly by providing credit, or
building up co-operatives, rather than indirectly by facilitating savings and providing security
for investments. In a semi-arid environment, savings may be literally eaten up after crop
failure. Government can minimise these losses and its own expenditures on famine relief by
ensuring that marketing is efficient so that farmers can buy grain as cheaply as possible when
the deficit is purely local. By having an efficient drought warning system, contingency plans
can be activated for food imports, or food relief. Government can also provide research and
advice on minimising crop loss in the field or in store, drought resistant varieties, appropriate
husbandry, and other techniques for soil moisture conservation.
As farmers hold some capital in the form of livestock, good veterinary services help by
preventing disease losses in both cattle and small stock. Farmers are generally willing to pay
for these, and this may be important for the government's ability to maintain the service.
Disease loss is still severe in Machakos, although there have been considerable improvements
with rinderpest, trypanosomiasis and East Coast Fever.
Savings also take the form of cash and can be facilitated by such institutions as Post Office
Savings Banks, rural branch banks, etc.
Credit in a semi-arid, risky environment is apt to create debt rather than productive assets.
Machakos farmers are nervous of taking credit on the basis of their title deeds and risking loss
of their land. Credit has only been used extensively by the coffee farmers who have a tree crop
and operate in areas with a slightly less risky rainfall. In the semi-arid areas, a major cotton
promotion programme 1978-83 led to a waste of government resources. Farmers are better
assisted to raise their own working capital by prompt payment for their output.
Land tenure policies
Secure land tenure (J, Figure 2) encourages farmers to undertake investment in permanent
improvements. This can be provided either by the evolution of local custom or by a change in
the legal environment. The greatest uncertainties in Machakos were on former Crown Land,
typical of the conflicts which often arise between a developing customary law and a statutory
law that gives ownership to government.
An economy with many smallholdings rather than a few large estates is more likely to develop
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
an active local non-agricultural sector. Such an economy can be encouraged, for example, by
laws that promote inheritance of many rather than one heir, or by taxes on undeveloped land.
However, these policies will have to be reconciled with the need to maintain security for
investment in land improvement in mind, and to avoid clashes with strongly entrenched social
or religious customs can lead to law evasion. Legal change should be preceded by careful
consideration of the immediate and future implications. Women should be consulted on
whether they prefer secure rights as wives or as daughters before instituting change in
The Machakos story has shown that small farmers from crowded 'high-potential' areas can
effectively develop 'marginal' land, but it is a process which requires time and capital. The
speed with which they invest in land and water conservation will depend on both the ease with
which they can provide for all their urgent capital needs and on their perception of the value
of land. Declaring an uncultivated, unsettled area open for settlement, and encouraging a rush
of settlers who can obtain rights only by cultivation, is more likely to result in small, intensively
cultivated and tree-planted farms than prescribing large farms based on notions of proper land
use (as the colonial government attempted in the one official settlement in Machakos). Where
government action can help is in providing some of the community investments, such as water
supply and roads.
Community investments: self-help and co-operatives
Kenya's orientation to self-help (harambee) has encouraged households and communities to
realise that the government cannot do everything, and that much depends on their own efforts.
Harambee has mobilised both community work and community funds. The latter has been
assisted by the general improvement in literacy and numeracy brought about by the schools,
which have themselves been a key area of local community effort. Self-help can be stimulated
and made more efficient by community development skills and management training. In
Kenya, these are used by the churches, the very active NGO community, and the local authority
community development assistants (CDA). The efficiency of a community development
service depends on good training, and it is unfortunate that the course for Council CDA staff
has been closed down.
Grants of tools and topping up grants for equipment and materials to self-help groups have
helped the poorer members of society, particularly when faced with crop failure. Such grants
have worked particularly well in support of projects designed and managed by the beneficiaries
with the necessary technical and management knowledge (or who have been equipped with
this). Women's groups involved in manufacturing school uniforms were on the whole more
successful than groups attempting intensive management of exotic poultry, for example (ODI,
1982). Food for work has played a part in relieving hardship, but carries the risk that people
make inappropriate investments to get relief, rather than for lasting benefits.
Co-operatives can succeed only under certain conditions, such as enough educated members
to check the management, and infrastructure which reduces marketing and transport costs and
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
risks to a reasonable level. In this situation private traders are also likely to provide reasonable
services.6 However, a co-operative can in the right circumstances be a way of raising capital
to provide processing facilities which then add value to the product. They have succeeded in
the densely populated coffee areas with relatively good roads of Machakos, but have failed to
be very effective in processing milk in areas with poor infrastructure and a more scattered
population. Government and external aid programmes should beware of overloading their
capacity, and imposing functions which may conflict with the objectives of the members' own
elected management. This seems to have happened in Machakos when a cotton programme
was imposed on a Union which consisted largely of coffee societies.
Small towns and income diversity
The growth of marketed production has created more non-agricultural jobs (O, Figure 2).
These jobs have generated capital and reduce the dependency on climatic risks. Currently,
there is a great need for non-farm jobs to provide for those who are inheriting non-viable plots.
Governments can assist the growth of small market towns by giving them municipal status (as
the Kenyan government is increasingly doing), so that they have taxing and revenue-raising
capacity to provide and maintain essential community amenities. Investment in infrastructure
in secondary and tertiary towns, could also support this by providing water supplies, electricity,
sanitation, post-offices, etc. Market towns with mutually supportive services will in turn
improve the reach of traders into the countryside, the spread of information, the stabilisation
of prices in times of shortage, and the raising of farm-gate prices of products in demand.
However, such towns will grow only if they have good transport connections. Here, Machakos
and other Kenyan Districts have been handicapped by poor systems for road maintenance and
by lack of capital funding for new roads. One consequence is that only 8% of the district
population of Machakos lived in urban centres in 1989, a far lower proportion than would be
found in similarly densely populated areas of Asia.
Some services and industries are best provided from national centres outside the District. This
can be seen as positive, since it will provide opportunities for migrants as well as the nationally
increased urban market which, in turn, stimulates agriculture. However, we are not advocating
a return to the policy of investing in industry at the expense of agriculture, which proved a
policy failure of the 1960s in many countries. Rather, we are arguing for investments in
infrastructure, both social and physical, which enable agriculture to become profitable and to
increase its demands for services and consumer goods.
Direct Interventions in Agriculture
Our policy recommendations have focused on the generation of conditions that will encourage
investments in land improvement and the adoption of technologies that enhance both incomes
and conservation. There is also, of course, a role for direct government promotion of improved
farming and livestock methods, provided it goes hand in hand with local consultation and the
encouragement of access to diverse sources of information. Government promotion of
technologies will succeed best if correctly timed. In areas of low population densities, with a
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
high land:labour ratio, intensive agriculture is unattractive. Market links are likely to be weak
and expensive in terms of per capital cost and in relation to usage. In such circumstance,
emigration to seek work should not be discouraged, for it may widen people's experience and
enable them to raise the capital which farming cannot initially generate. Support for education
is one way to assist out-migrants to get the jobs that may enable some of them to invest in new
The first marketable output is likely to be livestock, and people are likely to respond to
innovations that increase livestock health, productivity and marketability. As early as the
1920s, the Akamba welcomed, and paid for, rinderpest inoculations. As livestock numbers
increase and difficulties arise in pasture management, they are likely to develop or seek advice
on methods of increasing household control over specific areas. In some cases, there will be
traditions of group control that are still active. In this case, after consultation, the government
may support such groups to increase the productive capacity of the range. However, the
Machakos experience (not related here) shows the futility of trying to impose ideas of group
or tribal control of land on people whose custom has already evolved towards more
individualised land rights. It is also clear that there has to be a quite high degree of land scarcity
before planted fodder, and cut and carry methods of feeding, become more attractive than open
grazing. These technologies are now being adopted in the high population density areas of
Machakos, but not generally in AEZ 4, 5 and 6. Some methods of range land improvement
(including hedging, fencing, bush and indigenous tree management, scratch ploughing and
reseeding or replanting) become attractive at a fairly early stage. They can be carried out mostly
by direct labour, which is an advantage where cash is likely to be scarce.
In semi-arid areas with variable rainfall, food prices will always rocket in bad seasons. Even
at low population densities, people will have an interest in increasing food security. Generally,
this will mean finding ways to harvest and conserve what rainfall there is. Water management
is likely to have a more direct impact on output than the management of soil erosion only.
Fortunately, better water management goes hand-in-hand with erosion control where water
is the chief cause of soil erosion. The Machakos farmer has become an expert at the use of cut-
off drains, bench terraces, etc, to conserve water and to reduce erosion, considering both the
capital and maintenance costs of different technologies.
Choices in soil fertility management (fallow, manure, or chemical fertilizer) will be dictated
by population density, land scarcity, livestock density, and chemical fertilizer availability and
cost at a given time (Tiffen, 1976, for a Nigerian example). Manure is the natural next stage
to fallowing, when land for grazing is still relatively plentiful. It is also preferable in a semi-
arid area because it improves to the water-retention capacity of the soil. Livestock continue
to play an important role, also because many water-harvesting techniques require ploughing
(e.g. early planting, contour ridging, early weeding). On small farms with terraces, the ox-
plough is likely to remain preferred to the tractor. Hence, as farms become smaller, with a
higherproportion of arable land, ways must be found to intensify the keeping of cattle. Research
into alternative feeds for cattle that are partly stall-fed then becomes appropriate. For smaller
farms, with only small stock and poultry, research could focus on the use of droppings, perhaps
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
in association with composting.
The need to achieve high returns to water may drive some farmers out of livestock-keeping and
into those tree crops which can, if managed with water-conserving techniques, survive the
inevitable drought years. Such trees would provide not only subsistence fuel needs, but also
cash, amenities and increased to soil fertility. Some needs will be satisfied with a few scattered
trees in the arable and grazing lands, or a variety of trees near the house. Others will best be
satisfied by dedicating a patch of land to a tree crop. Moving into tree crops will bring its own
risks, such as disease. Farmers in Machakos are already worried, for example, at the threat from
citrus diseases. Given the limited resources available for research, it will be difficult to keep
ahead of farmers who are already involved in tree crops. To make optimal use of limited
resources for research, farmers will need to be involved in identifying priority areas for
Fruit tree crops with horticulture generally represent later stages of intensification, when there
is a local and/or accessible external market for these higher value food products. It requires
a more sophisticated research and extension service than generally available to keep up with
the multiplicity of products. This suggests that government should actively encourage
commercial enterprises and NGOs to join in meeting farmers' needs and listening to both their
problems and the results of their experimentation. To be successful, interventions have to
conform to the changing dynamics of farming systems as they evolve in response to population
growth and increased market access.
Government and community investment in physical and social infrastructure such as roads,
electricity, water, schools, financial services, veterinary and extension services, research
services, is vital but not enough. To be useful, these facilities have to be operated and
maintained. Funds must be available, not merely for staff salaries, but also for the means by
which staff can operate and maintain. Given the limitations on government and community
resources, this means providing:
* A cost-effective service;
* A revenue base from centrally or locally raised taxes and/or user fees and contributions; and
* A monitoring and accounting system in which those using the facilities have a role, either
as voters, or as people who can choose whether or not to buy the service.
Few governments have found optimal ways to deal with these needs. Kenya has a relatively
satisfactory schooling system, although it could certainly be improved, and a very unsatisfac-
tory road network system. Services are seldom cost-effective, because staff are employed who
do not have the means to be effective. Its agricultural research services (except for some specific
export crops) are now almost totally dependent on aid programmes for operational costs and,
therefore, follow the vagaries of changing overseas development theory and practice. Aid
agencies are partly responsible for encouraging policies that have led to staff expansion without
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
considering long-term revenue sources and limitations.
Central Government, Local Government, Participation and
The choice of policies, and the oversight of their implementation, partly depend on the extent
to which rural people are able to influence the agenda and the disposition of resources. Elected
local authorities at the District and municipal level can provide at least some of the necessary
services dictated by the needs and wishes of their electorate. Policies that deprive such Councils
of funds, professional skills and functions are therefore likely to detract from responding to
local needs and from accountability. Unfortunately Kenya has been proceeding down this path,
and it shows, especially in the maintenance of rural roads.
There is an important role for central government in drawing up macroeconomic policies, in
maintaining law and order and the stability of the currency, in establishing fair and equitable
taxation, and in setting minimum acceptable standards in matters that will affect the
community as a whole. They also have to provide the national level infrastructure with which
local infrastructure links up. However, central authorities should not seek to dictate the precise
technologies that individuals should use or the precise crops that they should grow. Choice
should be left to the users, remembering that what is suited to the assets and resources of one
family will not necessarily be best for their neighbours.
The Machakos experience between 1930 and 1990 lends no support to the view that rapid
population growth leads inexorably to environmental degradation. It is impossible to show that
a reduced rate of population growth might have had a more beneficial effect on the
environment. On the contrary, it might have made less labour available for conservation
technologies, resulted in less market demand and incentives for investment, and reduced the
speed at which new land was demarcated, cleared and conserved. Population growth has made
land a scarce and increasingly valued asset.
Falling fertility, reflected in a lower rate of population growth, suggests a spontaneous response
to changed economic conditions in the period 1979-89. An extreme shortage of land in some
parts of the District, diminished opportunities for income diversification with the national
economy in recession, and the high educational and other costs of raising children appear to
be leading to voluntary family limitation. The provision of family planning information and
accessibility of supplies can increase peoples' choices and the control which they have over
their circumstances. To argue for population limitation on environmental grounds weakens
the case for it both theoretically and practically.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
The adaptive capability of the Akamba people has been underestimated in the past, and makes
it difficult to predict their future. They are not unique in this respect, and it is likely that the
capabilities of others have been similarly underestimated. Given suitable policies and support
for water conservation, semi-arid lands can support larger populations and become more
productive. The direction of undue proportions of government attention and resources to high
potential areas (as suggested, for example, by Lele and Stone, 1989) is, therefore, notjustifiable
on the grounds that the semi-arid areas cannot repay investment. Dictation of what farmers
should do to limit their families or to develop their land is not the way to assist them to retain
the necessary flexibility to face the future. Rather, government support is required in increasing
access to knowledge and to markets, and in maintaining the necessary infrastructure. This can
encourage people to make informed choices in their private investments and innovations in
response to changing circumstances. The best policies are likely to derive from institutions
which permit communication on policy needs between the experts who know and live in the
District (i.e. the farmers), and those who derive expertise from their professional studies and
knowledge of the national and international situation. It is the latter who need to learn the
virtues of humility.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA45
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1. Pesticide Hazards in the Third World: New Evidence from the Philippines. 1987. J.A. McCracken and G.R.
2. Cash Crops, Food Crops and Agricultural Sustainability. 1987. E.B. Barbier.
3. Trees as Savings and Security for the Rural Poor. 1992. Robert Chambers, Czech Conroy and Melissa Leach.
(1st edition, 1988)
4. Cancer Risk and Nitrogen Fertilisers: Evidence from Developing Countries. 1988. J.N. Pretty and G.R.
5. The Blue-Baby Syndrome and Nitrogen Fertilisers: A High Risk in the Tropics? 1988. J.N. Pretty and G.R.
6. Glossary of Selected Terms in Sustainable Agriculture. 1988. J.A. McCracken and J.N. Pretty.
7. Glossary of Selected Terms in Sustainable Economic Development. 1988. E.B. Barbier and J.A.
8. Internal Resources for Sustainable Agriculture. 1988. C.A. Francis.
9. Wildlife Working for Sustainable Development. 1988. B. Dalal-Clayton.
10. Indigenous Knowledge for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. 1988. D.M. Warren and K.
11. Agriculture as a Global Polluter. 1989. Jules N. Pretty and G.R. Conway.
12. Evolution of Agricultural Research and Development Since 1950: Toward an Integrated Framework. 1989.
Robert E. Rhoades.
13. Crop-Livestock Interactions for Sustainable Agriculture. 1989. Wolfgang Bayer and Ann Waters-Bayer
14. Perspectives in Soil Erosion in Africa: Whose Problem? 1989. M. Fones-Sondell.
15. Sustainability in Agricultural Development Programmes: The Approach of USAID. 1989. Robert O. Blake.
16. Participation by Farmers, Researchers and Extension Workers in Soil Conservation. 1989. Sam Fujisaka.
17. Development Assistance and the Environment: Translating Intentions into Practice. 1989. Marianne Wenning.
18. Energy for Livelihoods: Putting People Back into Africa's Woodfuel Crisis. 1989. Robin Mearns and Gerald
19. Crop Variety Mixtures in Marginal Environments. 1990. Janice Jiggins
20. Displaced Pastoralists and Transferred Wheat Technology in Tanzania. 1990. Charles Lane and Jules N. Pretty.
21. Teaching Threatens Sustainable Agriculture. 1990. Raymond I. Ison.
22. Microenvironments Unobserved. 1990. Robert Chambers.
23. Low Input Soil Restoration in Honduras: the Cantarranas Farmer-to-Farmer Extension Programme. 1990. Roland
24. Rural Common Property Resources: A Growing Crisis. 1991. N.S. Jodha
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25. Participatory Education and Grassroots Development: The Case of Rural Appalachia. 1991. John Gaventa and
26. Farmer Organisations in Ecuador: Contributions to Farmer First Research and Development. 1991. A.
27. Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation in Africa. 1991. Chris Reij
28. Tree Products in Agroecosystems: Economic and Policy Issues. 1991. J.E.M. Arnold
29. Designing Integrated Pest Management for Sustainable and Productive Futures. 1991. Michel P. Pimbert
30. Plants, Genes and People: Improving the Relevance of Plant Breeding. 1991. Angelique Haugerud and Michael
31. Local Institutions and Participation for Sustainable Development. 1992. Norman Uphoff.
32. The Information Drain: Obstacles to Research in Africa. 1992. Mamman Aminu Ibrahim.
33. Local Agro-Processing with Sustainable Technology: Sunflowerseed Oil in Tanzania. 1992. Eric Hyman.
34. Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation in India's Semi-Arid Tropics. 1992. John Kerr and N.K. Sanghi.
35. Prioritizing Institutional Development: A New Role for NGO Centres for Study and Development. 1992. Alan
36. Communities as Resource Management Institutions. 1993. Marshall W. Murphree.
37. Livestock, Nutrient Cycling and Sustainable Agriculture in the West African Sahel. 1993. J.M. Powell and T.O.
38. O.K., the Data's Lousy, But It's All We've Got (Being a Critique of Conventional Methods). 1993. Gerard G. Gill.
39. Homegarden Systems: Agricultural Characteristics and Challenges. 1993. Inge D. Hoogerbrugge and Louise O.
40. Opportunities for Expanding Water Harvesting in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case of the Teras of Kassala. 1993.
Johan A. Van Dijk and Mohamed Hassan Ahmed.
41. Living in a Fragile Ecosystem: Indigenous Soil Management in the Hills of Nepal. 1993. Devika Tamang.
42. Community First: Landcare in Australia. 1994. Andrew Campbell.
43. From Research to Innovation: Getting the Most from Interaction with NGOs in Farming Systems Research and
Extension. 1994. John Farrington and Anthony Bebbington.
44. Will Farmer Participatory Research Survive in the International Agricultural Research Centres? 1994. Sam
45. Population Growth and Environmental Recovery: Policy Lessons from Kenya. 1994. Mary Tiffen, Michael
Mortimore and Francis Gichuki.
46. The Role of Mobility Within the Risk Management Strategies of Pastoralists and Agro-Pastoralists. 1994. Brent
47. Two Steps Back, One Step Forward: Cuba's National Policy for Alternative Agriculture. 1994. Peter Rosset.
Copies of these papers are available from the Sustainable Agriculture Programme, IIED, London
(3.00 each inc. p and p).
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA 45
The Sustainable Agriculture Programme
The Sustainable Agriculture Programme of IIED promotes
and supports the development of socially and environ-
mentally aware agriculture through research, training,
advocacy, networking and information dissemination.
The Programme emphasises close collaboration and con-
sultation with a wide range of institutions in the South.
Collaborative research projects are aimed at identifying
the constraints and potentials of the livelihood strategies
of the Third World poor who are affected by ecological,
economic and social change. These initiatives focus on
indigenous knowledge and resource management; par-
ticipatory planning and development; and agroecology
and resource conserving agriculture.
The refinement and application of Participatory Rural
Appraisal methods is an area of special emphasis. The
Programme is a leader in the training of individuals from
government and non-government organizations in the
application of these methods.
The Programme supports the exchange of field experi-
ences and research through a range of formal and informal
publications, including RRA Notes, aimed at practitioners
of Rapid and Participatory Rural Appraisal, and the Gate-
keeper Series, briefing papers aimed at policy makers. It
receives funding from the Swedish International Develop-
ment Authority, the Ford Foundation, and other diverse
International Institute for
Environment and Development
3 Endsleigh Street,
London WC1H ODD, UK
Telephone: 071-388 2117
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