When President William Ruto was unveiling the second phase of the subsidised fertiliser programme on August 2, he regretted that agriculture was losing its shine but still employed 70 per cent of the Kenyan workforce.
Ruto said years of declining agricultural production had recently been aggravated by failed rains and the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This meant that the earnings of people employed in agriculture, who make up over 70 percent of the country’s workforce, were diminishing, as the cost of living rose steeply.”President William Ruto
That claim could easily pass without raising an eyebrow. For long, agriculture has for long been described as the backbone of the Kenyan economy. Most of us were raised in rural Kenya on farms. We grew up either raising cattle or growing crops. Or doing both.
Although the structure of the Kenyan economy has changed with increased urbanisation, which has in turn spawned new non-agricultural jobs, that reality is yet to dawn on oldies.
In rural Kenya, for example, young men are selling their farmlands to get into the boda boda business. Coffee farms in Central Kenya have given way to high-end apartments as a concrete jungle takes shape in one of the most fertile lands in Kenya.
Moreover, any attempt at countering this claim could amount to a wild goose chase. A big chunk of the Kenyan economy is informal. Eight in 10 Kenyans last year were employed in the informal sector, according to the Economic Survey 2023, which is published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
Nonetheless, the World Bank, in a new report, attempts to put the share of the agricultural sector at a lower percentage than what Ruto provided.
“Between 2006 and 2019, employment shares in agriculture dropped from 58 percent in 2006 to 45 percent in 2019, industry increased from 7 to 11 percent, while services increased by 10 percentage points from 34 to 45 percent,” said the World Bank in the report.
The World Bank in a new report puts the contribution of the service sector—which includes transport, ICT, real estate, building and construction, banking and insurance, arts and entertainment, and education—has contributed about 45 percent of jobs.
The agricultural sector’s contribution to the size of the economy, or the gross domestic product (GDP), also declined to 21.2 per cent in 2022 compared to 21.5 per cent in 2021 as the service sector played a bigger role in the economy, the World Bank noted.
Still, agriculture continues to play a critical role in job creation. The vast majority of the new entrants into the job market find themselves in the low-productivity, informal work in agriculture and the non-agricultural informal sector. When Covid-19 broke out, and most of the service sector including hotels and restaurants were shut down, the fall back was in agriculture.