Drought puts western Kenya at risk, like arid lands

Drought puts western Kenya at risk, like arid lands

No county has recorded normal rainfall during the short rainy season

Communities living in western Kenya are likely to be particularly vulnerable to the dry spell that has persisted since late last year, even as attention is focused on more arid parts of Kenya.

A study published by the Society for International Development (SID) and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics found that six counties, largely located in the north and west of the country, had at least half the employed people working on family land holdings.

They were Nyamira (53 per cent), Busia (52 per cent), Kisii (51 per cent) and Bungoma, Turkana and Nyandarua (all 50 per cent). Five constituencies have more than two-thirds of their labour force working on family land.

Sirisia Constituency and Mount Elgon in Bungoma County had the largest share of individuals working on family land holdings at 69 per cent and 68 per cent, respectively. Loima in Turkana County (68 per cent), Kuria East in Migori (67 per cent) and Ndhiwa in Homa Bay (67 per cent) rounded up the top five.


The report notes that working on family landholdings is associated with reliance on uneven weather and a lack of certainty in earnings. The 2013 study, titled Exploring Kenya’s Inequality, is the most recent on inequality and poverty available.

It gives an indication of communities that are likely to be harshly affected by the dry conditions that have prevailed in Kenya since late last year, which may not be in the public eye because they are not located in arid or semi-arid regions.

In many cases, family lands are small in size and are under pressure to feed ever growing families. The high proportions of people working on family land in these counties give cause of concern, given that weather warnings show the short rains appear to have failed.

According to the national drought early warning bulletin for January 2017, no county has recorded normal rainfall during the short rainy season. The warning also says the short rains were too brief to significantly influence improvement in crop and animal production and summarises effects on particular counties.

Crop failure is expected for most parts of Embu County and near-total crop failure in Kitui. The warning also predicts below-average crop production in Makueni, Meru, Nyeri, Tharaka-Nithi, Kilifi, West Pokot, Baringo and Isiolo counties.


The data shows that lack of education is associated with surviving off family land, where little or no education is needed, and that urban dwellers with no education were twice as likely as their rural counterparts to be unemployed.

The report says a third of the country’s labour force earns a living by growing crops and raising animals on family land. Nearly a quarter, or 24 per cent, work for pay, while 13 per cent work on a family business. Subsistence farmers and pastoralists are usually excluded from formal and informal sector employment data.

More than four out of five (82 per cent) of the people in Kuria East Constituency who have no education made a living by working off their family land. This was the highest such proportion in the country. It was followed by Ugenya, Kitutu Chache North, Sirisia and Ndhiwa.

Urbanised counties have especially large proportions of people who work on family lands in some constituencies. Kiambu County has a wide spread — ranging from the urbanised Thika and Juja constituencies at 5 per cent to Gatundu South at 36 per cent, Gatundu North at 38 per cent and Lari at 43 per cent — working on family land.


Nakuru County also has a wide spread — from the urbanised Nakuru Town West (5 per cent) to Kuresoi North (61 per cent). In Homa Bay, only 20 per cent of people in Suba North are employed in cultivating family land, while in Ndhiwa it is 67 per cent.
Counties that rely on family land are not the most unequal, however.

Four of the five most unequal counties and five of the most unequal 10 are at the Coast. The most unequal county, measured by the Gini coefficient, is Tana River with a value of 0.617, followed by Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu and Migori. The Gini index measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income.

The study found that Turkana County, which was the poorest, was also the most equal. The most unequal constituency was Teso South in Busia, followed by Galole, Bura, Garsen and Magarini, all from the Coast.