Trends Towards Circular Agriculture in Kenya
In Kenya, circular agriculture is on the rise. We understand it as a sustainable and inclusive food system that operates in harmony with nature and meets social needs simultaneously. With a steadily growing population, food in Kenya has been in high demand and this has come at the expense of the environment. For example, farmers have begun using more intensive pesticides, and irrigation techniques, causing severe land erosion and poor soil quality. Circular agriculture would serve as a viable solution, but is Kenya ready to adopt it as a country? Are there reasons to assume that the country is already moving towards circular agriculture?
Noticeable trends show that the country is already shifting to a more circular economy. This blog highlights 11 trends and developments related to circularity in Kenya. These trends were first publicized in ‘The Netherlands and Kenya Moving Toward Circular Agriculture in Kenya ’, a report commissioned by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kenya and executed by Sustainable Inclusive Business, in partnership with TheRockGroup and Knowledge Center under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA). To download the full report, click here.
What’s already being done?
- Fighting malnourishment by minimizing food waste in the value chain: A substantial part of the Kenyan population suffers from malnourishment. Meanwhile, a sizable part of agricultural production is lost somewhere in the value chain. However, practices and innovations that help reduce losses are being adopted. For instance, left-over produce is now being stored and processed into dry food, animal feed, soil fertilizer, or biomass fuel.
- Climate change mitigation with reforestation and bio-solutions: The Kenyan weather has become rather unpredictable. Droughts caused by global warming have become a major threat to Kenyan agriculture. The rainy seasons also sow fear among farmers due to their unpredictability. Some agri companies have opted for responsible models, with the aim of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, Agriterra, and partners Moyee Coffee, The Fairchain Foundation, Kipkelion District Cooperative Union, and Kenya Agriculture Livestock and Research Organization (KALRO) have formed a consortium to develop a low-carbon coffee value-chain in Kericho. They also produce their organic fertilizer from local waste streams and provide training to local farmers.
- Carbon Credits as a new value model: Carbon credits are emerging as a new business model for farmers in Kenya and Africa. There is a growing number of companies striving for net-zero to compensate for their carbon emissions. According to ForestTrends and Ecosystem Marketplace, REDD credits are particularly popular, showing a 280 percent increase in transactions in 2021, compared to 2020. REDD credits (“Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation”) are used to fund the protection of ancient tropical forests.
- Renewable energy is the only logical choice: As a country on the equator with vast areas of unused land, Kenya is in a good position to increase its utility-scale production of PV electricity and utilization of off-grid power in remote areas. Companies dedicated to circular agriculture see renewable energy as the only logical choice for their operations including warehousing, production processes, and lighting.
- New crops and varieties to adapt to climate change: The effects of global warming have greatly affected Kenyan farmers. Long droughts combined with the erosion of fertile soils have put great pressure on agricultural production. Farmers are now opting for crops that are more resilient to the changing weather conditions. For instance, Africa Wood Grow cleverly chose the Mukau Tree (Melia Volkensii) for their reforestation projects, because it is an extraordinarily resilient species that can withstand longer periods of drought. Also, SNV’s craft program provides technical, financial, and organizational support to increase educated climate-smart farmers.
- Working with nature, not against it: Frontrunners in circular agriculture stress that our conventional food system stagnates natural processes. In the long term, this could lead to soil depletion, water shortages, and decreasing availability of arable land, which can only be countered with more chemical fertilizers and artificial irrigation. To reverse this negative spiral, circular farmers have tried to put the forces of nature to their advantage, by abolishing monocultures, enhancing soil life, and storing water naturally. Even though the revitalization of soils can take years, results are very promising. In addition, it allows for better conservation of biodiversity.
- Food security is an economic issue: The fight against malnourishment is not only a matter of agricultural output, it is also an economic issue. Frontrunners in circular agriculture do not only focus on agrotechnology but also have a keen eye for both the affordability of their products and the creation of new jobs. Mama Mbogas (Mama Vegetables) plays a key role in accessing food for local communities; and with the help of Twiga Foods, Mama Mbogas is working towards a more sustainable future.
- Smart low-tech and hands innovation: The shift from conventional to circular agriculture requires new insights, new approaches, and different technologies. Entrepreneurs in this field have shown great appreciation for innovation. The independence of vulnerable technology is seen as an advantage. Hands-on innovation can be achieved with the utilization of local skilled labor, as is the case of NatureLock. This company uses a proprietary technology developed in Europe and has converted this knowledge into a food preservation process that can be controlled locally.
- Plant and insect-based proteins as a substitute for meat: On a global scale, the consumption of meat is one of the biggest sources of GHG emissions. Replacing animal proteins with plant or insect-based proteins will contribute greatly to the reduction of carbon emissions from the food system. Frontrunners in circular agriculture have acknowledged this and strive to produce meat with fewer emissions, or substitute products. InsectiPro in Limuru is reputed for its efficient ways of growing Black Soldier Flies as a sustainable alternative to animal proteins. In the process, the company also addresses organic management issues, while making African food secure with the help of insects.
- Think big, produce locally: Companies focusing on circular agriculture tend to look at local production and consumption first. In a circular system, food is produced and sold locally, shortening the supply chain and reducing food losses during transport and warehousing. Fair pricing and local good decent jobs are not only possible but are a requirement. Mara Farming has achieved this by working with small-scale farmers in a sustainable, inclusive, and nature-friendly way that serves the export market.
- Phasing out waste and adopting the waste-to-value concept: The low-hanging fruit in the agriculture sector is the waste-to-value solution. Leftovers from fruits, vegetables, stems, and flower leaves, if not treated with chemicals, can be converted to organic animal feed or manure for soil improvement. Furthermore, plastic waste also plays a key role in any sector including agriculture, with plastic packaging being used in among other the horticulture sector. The Kenya Plastics Pact has been developed to set clear targets to eliminate, innovate, and circulate plastic packaging to keep them in the system and out of our ecosystems.
In sum, the above trends indicate that circular agriculture truly can be a game-changer. Kenya is already showing great progress in adopting it. The entrepreneurs referred to in this article are not solitary loners. Rather, they all represent an undercurrent of the total of business opportunities for circular agriculture.
Karin Boomsma, Consultant at TheRockGroup & Director at Sustainable Inclusive Business