In Summary
  • According to the study, about 53 per cent of the land owned by these middle class Kenyans is not under cultivation. Those in this class are defined as medium-scale farmers who own between five and 100 acres of land.
  • The only difference is that those who acquired their farms through a farm-led strategy are the ones who have greater proportion of their land under cultivation.
  • In the past 30 years, the researchers say, those who were in-charge of the Ministry of Agriculture portfolio have been predominantly from Rift Valley. They have designed food production and marketing policies around the medium-scale farmers who control farming in the region.

Middle class Kenyans are buying fertile agricultural land and holding it for speculative purposes instead of farming it, putting food security in danger.

Even those who are farming are not using their land to its full potential, a new study shows.

The high appetite for land by these Kenyans is pushing prices through the roof, and making it very difficult for small-scale farmers to expand their farming.

These are some of the issues raised by Prof Milu Muyanga, a Kenyan, and Prof Thomas Jayne, both lecturers at the Michigan State University, in their study launched on Thursday at Boma Hotel in Nairobi.

According to the study, about 53 per cent of the land owned by these middle class Kenyans is not under cultivation. Those in this class are defined as medium-scale farmers who own between five and 100 acres of land.

The survey was carried out in eight counties of Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Kakamega, Bungoma, Machakos, Kajiado and Narok.

“Few of the medium-scale farmers in our sample cultivated most of their land. Many had hired relatives as managers who look after their operations,” says Prof Jayne of the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.

FETCH HIGH PRICES

Of the 300 who were interviewed during the study, about two thirds said their land is held to fetch high market prices in future.

Sixty per cent of them have acquired their land through savings or other earnings. The other 40 per cent got the land using their farm proceeds or as inheritance from parents. Prof Jayne describes the latter as “relatively privileged rural-born men who were then able to acquire large land holdings as they started out their careers.”

The only difference is that those who acquired their farms through a farm-led strategy are the ones who have greater proportion of their land under cultivation.

Referred to by the study as the wealthy elite, these middle-scale farmers are said to buy land and only enter into farming in their mid-life years, when they are about to retire or have retired from active employment.

According to Prof Jayne and Prof Muyanga, the rapid rise in the number of farms in the five to 100-hectare category represents a relatively hidden but revolutionary change in farm structure — reflecting increased investment in land by relatively wealthy urban-based individuals.”

The researchers warn that the country is focusing on large-scale farmers, when the real problem is the middle class Kenyans who are now the leading owners of agricultural land.

In the past couple of years, the number of Kenyans acquiring between five and 100 acres has been increasing rapidly. Currently, the middle-scale farmers own 0.84 million hectares of land compared to 0.64 million hectares owned by combined foreign and domestic large-scale farmers.

LAND ACQUISITION

A significant percentage of those in the middle-scale are either former or current civil servants. “A majority of farmers sampled followed a particular pattern: they were predominantly men, their primary jobs were in the non-farm sector, and they were mostly employed in the public sector,” says Jayne.

About 57 per cent of them were formerly or currently employed in the public sector; 83 per cent had held other jobs other than farming; and they started farming with about 23 hectares. Majority of them acquired their land between the 1990s and 2000s.

Page 1 of 2