The production of food crops in Kenya plays an important role in Kenya's economic development as a major source of food, income, employment creation, and saving on foreign exchange expenditures through import substitution. Food Crops subsector contributes approximately 33% of the total agricultural GDP.
This sub-sector is a major occupation of the rural population and accounts for a large share of the total agricultural output. The food crops sub-sector provides national food and nutritional security and income generation through the local markets. This sub-sector plays a significant role in the delivery on the Sustainable Development Goals of reducing poverty and hunger, as well as meeting the aspirations encapsulated in various Kenya Government policy documents such as Vision 2030 and the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (2019-2029).
The total annual Food Crop production for 2019 was 10.5 million tons supporting millions of households. Crop diseases, pests, and weeds greatly reduce the potential of these crops both in quality and quantity. Currently, losses due to these constraints are estimated at over 30%. Efforts to increase production and reduce these losses should take cognizance of the need to conserve the environment.
The food crops sub-sector does not currently meet the country's demand for food commodities. Kenya continues to import large quantities of food products to meet the high demand for local consumption.
The main food crops in Kenya are maize, wheat, rice, potatoes, Green grams, and beans. Maize is the principal staple food of Kenya and it is grown in 90 percent of all Kenyan farms while the common bean and the Irish potato are the most important legume and tuber crop respectively.
As a strategy to reduce pressure from reliance on maize, the Government of Kenya embarked on diversification and floor blending of maize and wheat by sorghum, millet, cassava and sweet potatoes. Flour Blending Initiative is part of Kenya's “Big 4” Plan aimed at contributing towards food security, improve nutrition and increase employment opportunities in Kenya. These blends improve consumers’ nutritional value by enhancing dietary diversity.
Cereals are defined as grains or edible seed of the grass family Poaceae. They are grown for their highly nutritious edible seeds, which are often referred to as grains. Some cereals are stapled foods both directly for human consumption and indirectly via livestock feed.
Cereals mainly comprise of maize, wheat, rice, sorghum, millets, and barley. Of these, maize, wheat, and rice are the most important staples with maize taking the lead in both consumptions and produced in larger acreage compared to the other cereals. Maize alone constitutes the daily subsistence need for the majority of Kenyans.
Cereals are grown in most agro-ecological zones of Kenya with exception of the northeastern region. Production of cereals in highly reliant on rain fed agriculture leading to fluctuations in production. In some parts of Kenya, cereals are grown in two seasons and mostly intercropped with legumes.
In Kenya land under cereal production fluctuates around 2.52Ha million producing 3.71 Million tons (FAO, 2017) of harvested dry grain. Maize, wheat, rice, sorghum, and millets are the commonly grown cereals in the Counties.
Major challenges in cereal production include; pests and diseases, high production cost, fluctuating prices of produce, prolonged droughts, poor handling, and storage.
The role of cereals in health
Cereals provide a range of macro- and micronutrients and high consumption of cereals has been associated with a decreased risk of developing several chronic diseases. Cereals are stapled foods, with current estimates of annual cereal consumption at 166 kg per capita in developing countries and 133 kg in developed countries (FAO, 2003). Annual per capita cereal consumption in Kenya averages 123 kg.
The role of cereals in health and diseases
Cereals have a long history of use by humans, dating back to prehistoric times. Cereals are stapled foods, with current estimates of annual cereal consumption at 166 kg per capita in developing countries and 133 kg in developed countries (FAO 2003). Annual per capita cereal consumption in Kenya averages 123 kg. Cereals provide a range of macro- and micronutrients and high consumption of cereals has been associated with a decreased risk of developing several chronic diseases.
Legumes are the second most important staple food commodity in Kenya after cereals. The main producing areas for legumes in Kenya include the Rift Valley, Eastern, Nyanza, Western and Central Provinces. The area under legumes on average is 1.47 Ha million producing on average 1million tons involving 2million farmers.
Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Legumes grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. In Kenya, these include Common dry beans, soya beans, pigeon peas, dolichos beans, cowpeas, chick peas, broad beans, cluster beans, dry peas and green grams. Common bean is the major pulse cultivated. Legumes are annual crops that yield between one and 12 grains or seeds per pod.
The term “legumes” is limited to crops harvested solely as dry grains, which differentiates them from other vegetable crops that are harvested while still green. Kenya is the seventh largest producer of common beans in the world and the second leading producer in East Africa after Tanzania.
The main legumes grown in Kenya include; common beans, green grams, cowpeas, pigeon peas, and Dolichos lablab.
Economically, legumes contribute about a third of the food crops subsector GDP.
Legumes perform well in moderate rainfall areas and good yield levels have been reported in 31 counties namely; Baringo, Bomet, Bungoma, Busia, Elgeyo Marakwet, Embu, Homabay, Kakamega, Kericho, Kiambu, Kisii, Kisumu, Kitui, Laikipia, Machakos, Makueni, Meru, Migori, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nandi, Narok, Nyamira, Nyeri, Siaya, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Vihiga and West Pokot.
The role of legumes in health
Legumes have an important role in preventing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Legumes are a low fat source of protein with a high fibre content that decrease blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels.
Legumes provide minerals which include: iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. They are also particularly abundant in B vitamins; including folate, thiamine and niacin. Growing legumes also promotes sustainable agriculture, as pulse crops help decrease greenhouse gases, increase soil health, and use less water than other crops.
Roots and Tubers
Root and tuber crops are currently the second most important food crop category in Kenya after cereals. The main root and tuber crops produced in Kenya are Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, yams, and cocoyam's. They are important food crops that have gained increased importance due to their role in food security, ability to withstand drought as well as their potential for commercial processing.
Roots and Tubers Production
Production of roots and tuber on average in 2018 acreage was 322,050Ha with a production of 3.68M MT valued at 65.92Billion. Potato is the major tuber crop whose area increased from 99,475ha in 2012 to 217,315ha in 2018 while production increased from 1,436718MT to 1,867,376MT over the same period. Kenya produces on average 3.68M MT of potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, coco-yams, and yams.
Contribution of roots and tubers in health
Plants producing starchy roots, tubers, rhizomes, corms, and stems provide nutrition and health. They are also an important source of animal feed and processed products for human consumption and industrial use.