Kenya is a priority for Biovision and since 1998, the Foundation has supported a range of projects in the country, focussing in particular on the introduction of ecological methods to improve health and promote agriculture. The head office of the research institute icipe is located in Nairobi. Dr Hans Rudolf Herren was its director for 10 years and icipe now has links with some 30 countries in Africa and is Biovision’s largest partner.
With a thousand-year-old history of migration flows bringing people of quite different cultures into the country, Kenya now has very many ethnic groups. At the end of 2019, it had a population of just under 53 million. The population is currently increasing by almost 1.5 million per year and almost 60% of the population are less than 24 years of age.
About a quarter of the population lives in towns and cities and of these 4.7 million live in the capital Nairobi. As a result of the rural exodus widespread throughout Africa, the urban population has grown twice as fast as the national average. The projects supported by the Biovision Foundation seek to improve the economic prospects of rural communities and so stem the exodus.
The Human Development Index of UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme, which determines prosperity on the basis of health, education and income, ranks Kenya 147 out of 189, making it slightly above the norm for the Sub-Saharan Region. Average life expectancy is just under 66.3 years. Child mortality has declined dramatically and is now 3.4%. However, more than 26% of the population remain undernourished.
Apart from hunger, the main health problems are HIV/AIDs with an infection rate amongst adults of 4.8% and the high incidence of malaria. In terms of the latter, Biovision’s “Stop Malaria” Project is committed to improving living conditions: Some 60% of Kenyans have access to clean water but only 30% to sanitation facilities.
Today, 78% of all those over 15 years of age can read and write, giving Kenya one of the highest levels of literacy rates in Africa.
With a land area in excess of 580,000 sq. km, Kenya is 14 times the size of Switzerland. However, according to the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP), only about one-sixth of the total area is suitable for farming and permanent cultivation. Despite its location on the Equator, the climate and vegetation is only tropical and humid on the coast and around Lake Victoria. Agriculture is, therefore, concentrated on the fertile uplands and a narrow strip immediately inland of the coast.
In these areas, Biovision is supporting small-scale farming communities with a range of projects designed to improve agriculture production using ecological principles. In the majority of cases, this is done via the Farmer Communication Programme (FCP). Since 2020 the African sister organisation Biovision Africa Trust (BvAT) has been in a groundbreaking agreement with "The Standard Group", one of Kenya's largest media houses. The partnership aims to raise farmers' awareness of harmful agricultural practices, in particular excessive use of pesticides. In the future, millions of farming families will receive additional information on environmentally friendly farming practices through various media channels.
Forests still make up 7.8% of the country’s land area. With firewood remaining the main energy source for cooking in rural areas, these forests are under intense pressure. The ongoing deforestation and the widespread over-exploitation of soils and water resources also threaten a gradual destruction of what were formerly fertile areas (see "Local Seed Increases Biodiversity").
In the regions in the north and south of Kenya that are inherently arid, nomadic communities have for years been fighting the regular droughts that threaten their way of life. Although the environmental problems are partly the result of local factors, they are being exacerbated by the effects of global climate change (see project "Camels for drought areas").
Between 2010 and 2019, Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) almost doubled. The economy is currently growing two to three times as fast as the population. Despite that, the average income of about USD1,500 per person per year remains very low.. 59% of the population have to survive on less than USD 3 per day and the gap in incomes between rich and poor is growing all the time. The Gini Index for Kenya is 40.8.
In the rural areas, most people earn their livelihood from small-scale farming and this sector employs about 60% of the national population. With its exports of tea, coffee, flowers and vegetables, it accounts for about 35% of the economic output. Despite the widespread poverty amongst these small-scale farmers, agriculture has the potential to significantly improve the living conditions of the entire Kenyan population. For that reason, Biovision has a major presence in this area, e.g. with the Push-Pull Project.
The main source of income in Kenya is tourism. However, its contribution to GDP varies significantly depending upon the political and security situation in the country. Compared with other African countries, Kenya has relatively little in the way of natural resources. Despite this, industrial production – the third largest sector – accounts for just over one-sixth of GDP.
For some time, the Kenyan economy has been unable to provide enough jobs for the school leavers crowding onto the labour market. In addition, many youngsters end up in poorly paid service jobs. Hundreds of thousands of young women work as domestic servants and any vacancies for work as guards in a security firm will attract a large number of men. Apart from agriculture, the security industry is the country’s largest employer.
Since the end of British colonial rule in 1963, Kenya has been a presidential republic and the president, who is directly elected by the people, has extensive powers. For almost 40 years, politics was dominated by one party – the Kenya African National Union (KANU) led by the country’s founder Jomo Kenyatta and his increasingly autocratic successor, Daniel arap Moi. However, since 2002, there have been signs of an emerging political openness.
A highpoint of this development was the new constitution approved with a two-thirds majority by voters in August 2010. It - at least on paper - curtails the power of the president, strengthens parliament, encourages decentralization, devolves some power to the counties, fights corruption and creates structures to solve contentious land issues.
Kenya’s history has been shaped by major migration flows that have brought with them a range of different cultures. These flows are mainly the result of armed conflict in neighbouring countries and in recent decades the increasing regularity of extreme weather conditions such as prolonged droughts. These migration flows are the cause of regular conflicts between various ethnic groups for land, cattle and water. Following the elections in 2007, this extreme polarisation combined with the country’s tendency to engage in violence brought Kenya to the edge of civil war and caused hundreds of deaths and the displacement of some ten thousand people.
Since then, numerous institutions and non-governmental organisations have sought to bring about a peaceful resolution to the land disputes and tribal feuds that – in contrast - the political parties have tended to foment rather than calm. Despite that, the elections in March 2013 were relatively peaceful and resulted in an extremely narrow victory for Uhuru Kenyatta as president.
The greatest threat to Kenya’s national security is the chaos triggered by the war that has been waging for years in Somalia, its Eastern neighbour. In response to kidnappings and terror attacks by the radical Islamic militia Al-Shabaab, troops from the Kenyan army have made incursions into Southern Somalia since 2011. Somalian extremists have responded with deadly attacks on police stations, public transport, tourist destinations, shopping centres and educational establishments on Kenya soil. The attacks are not only restricted to the border region but have also occurred in Nairobi and Mombasa as well.