Opportunities in the Fertilizer and Agrochemicals sub-sector

An Expert's View about Fertilizers and Nitrogen Compounds in Kenya

Posted on: 19 Aug 2012


Agriculture remains the mainstay of Kenya’s economy accounting for 30% of total GDP either directly or indirectly and employs over 75% of the population. In fact, more than 60% of Kenya’s export earnings are attributed to agricultural products with cash crops of tea coffee and horticulture leading the way. In addition, it contributes about 45% of government revenue, and is estimated to have a further indirect contribution of nearly 27% of GDP through linkages with manufacturing, distribution, and other service related sectors. Tea remains the dominant agricultural export earner in Kenya. The primary food crops are maize, beans, cassava, potatoes and sorghum. Diffusion of new production techniques, especially use of chemical fertilizers, as well as high yielding varieties of seeds and pesticides, has boosted the agricultural industry; however, much remains to be done as mechanization is still very low and fertilizer use is infrequent.


Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya's economy: the agriculture sector contributes about 30% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for 75% of national employment, mainly in the rural areas. In addition, the sector contributes more than 60 per cent of the total export earnings and about 45 per cent of government revenue, while providing for most of the country's food requirements. The sector is estimated to have a further indirect contribution of nearly 27 per cent of GDP through linkages with manufacturing, distribution, and other service related sectors. It is therefore a key sector that requires consistent investment so as to increase the standards of living especially among the rural community in Kenya. Since Kenya’s arable land mass is largely fixed and already under cultivation, expansion of the cultivated area is not a realistic option to increase the livelihoods of Kenya’s rural population. To increase productivity, there needs to be improved farming technologies as well as diversification into higher-value crops. Both strategies require the increased use of fertilizers as well as other productivity enhancing inputs.

Kenya imports virtually all of its agricultural chemicals since there is no significant local production. Unlike many sub-Saharan African countries, Kenya’s fertilizer use has almost doubled since the liberalization of the market in the 1990s and removal of government price controls and import licensing quotas. The growth in use has been noted especially among the smallholder farmers in growth of both food crops (maize, domestic horticulture) and export crops (tea, coffee). Growth in the industry is largely due to huge private investment in both importation and retailing of fertilizers. The market is dominated by United States, Russia, Ukraine and China and, to a lesser extent Romania. After blending, a small percentage of these fertilizers are exported within the region.

The agrochemical imports average about 450,000-480,000 metric tons every year. The main types of fertilizers consumed in Kenya are compound fertilizers that provide both nitrogen and phosphate. Planting fertilizers for grain (DAP, NPK) comprise the majority of the fertilizer consumed in Kenya, while straight nitrogenous fertilizers such as CAN and urea are used for top-dressing. DAP is used on maize, MAP on wheat, NPK 25:5:5 is used on tea, NPK 17:17:17 and MOP (Muriate of Potash) on coffee, and specialty fertilizers are used on horticultural crops particularly in the flower industry. Cereals production consumes the bulk with 150,000 tons closely followed by horticulture, which takes up to 65,000 tons. Coffee and tea take up to 40,000 and 30,000 tons respectively while the remainder is taken up by other small crops.

In 2007 there was a drop in imports due to several factors including a rise in overall prices and a prevailing drought in the country. The high prices, drought, and effects of the post-election violence including torching of many farms in the grain basket region contributed to a further sectoral decline in 2008. In 2009, there was a huge spike on fertilizer and agrochemical imports. This was due in large part to a new initiative by the Government of Kenya that saw the largest import program of fertilizer in years. The program, dubbed the “National Accelerated Agricultural Input Access Program” (NAAIAP) is aimed at offering farm input subsidies and distributing free fertilizer to small scale farmers so as to reduce poverty and “kick-start” agricultural productivity that was greatly affected by the post election violence and poor rainfall. The bulk purchase of fertilizer was also expected to bring down the price of fertilizers that have steadily increased, and thereby bring down food prices. In 2011, Kenya imported 520,000 tons of fertilizer valued at US$263 million, thus continuing with the upward growth in imports. This program is part of the Vision 2030, Kenya’s development blueprint to become a globally competitive, middle income country by the year 2030.


The pesticide market is regulated by the Pest Control Products Board. The Board licenses, screens and inspects the pesticides which are manufactured locally or imported pesticides are used for public health, animal and plant protection purposes. Pesticides marketed in Kenya include insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, plant growth regulators, nematicides, matricides, etc. Most of the pesticides are used in the agricultural sector to control livestock, plant pests and diseases. For public health purposes, pesticides are used to control mosquitoes and tsetse flies, which are disease vectors. The pesticide industry in Kenya consists mainly of firms importing active ingredients, formulating, selling and repacking. Some firms are also importing finished and packed products for retail purposes.

The demand for pesticide products has continued to rise due to the increasing incidence of pests and diseases for crops. To produce good quality products, both the livestock and crops must be protected against pests and diseases. Pesticide imports have been increasing and the major users have been coffee estates and horticultural farmers. The pesticide sub-sector is very essential in national development since Kenya is one of the leading producers of pyrethrum. The development of this industry should go hand in hand with the pyrethrum subsector development. The sector contributes a lot to the GDP through the production of quality products both for export and local markets. Some of the imported active ingredients are formulated, packed and re-exported to the COMESA countries. This earns the country a great deal of foreign exchange.

Key stakeholders in pesticide use are the Agrochemical Manufacturers & Formulators (AAK), Fresh Producers and Exporters (FPEAK), Socfinaf (independent coffee producers), pesticide importers, stockists/warehouses, pesticide importers, and AAK Coffee Research Foundation.

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Posted: 19 August 2012