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5.4 Land utilization types in Kenya

A detailed description of one land utilization type is reproduced below. This example can be used as a checklist; for many purposes, less detail may be sufficient] or not all aspects might need to be covered. The social and economic context has been covered in the description of the use.

A listing of all land utilization types in the medium - potential areas of Eastern Province, Kenya is given in Table 10.


Land utilization type


Capital intensity US$/ha

Labour intensity man-months per ha

Farm power

Level of technical knowledge

Farm size ha/household

Land tenure

Incomes: value added (approx.) US$/ha

Smallholder rainfed arable farming traditional technology

perennials, drought-resistant crops, livestock

investment: own labour recurrent costs 1.2 - 1.8 occasionally oxen


man-power, occasionally oxen


actually cultivated: 1 - 2, gross incl. fallow: 4 - 15

land adjudication acts as constraint


- do - intermediate technology

addition of cotton, more maize, sorghum

investment: own labour (clearing) and tools, oxen recurrent costs: 6 - 9


man, animal power, limited mechanization

low; extension required

cultivated 1 - 2 gross incl. fallow: 4 - 10



- do - modern technology


investment: 60 farm costs: 150

10 - 15

- do - output can bear mechanization expense

presently low; extension and credit required


pooling of land desirable near dam sites


Estate arable farming


investment: not known farm costs: 200

12 - 15

man-power and mechanization


at least 1200 ha (or 1500 tons of fibre) per processing unit

land adjudication acts as a barrier; estate necessary as nucleus


Smallholder irigation

mixed vegetables

investment: 150 farm costs: 210


man-power, rotavators

low; constraints are extension, credit, marketing

0.5 - 1

tenancy may act as a drawback


Large-scale supervised irrigation

cotton groundnuts food crops

investment: 1750 net maintenance costs: 38 + management costs

15 - 20

tractor and implements


0.8 - 1.6

proposed tenants under Trust Land (Irrigation Areas) Rules

details in feasibility reports

Extensive range management


3.5 - 6

less than 0.3


low, lack of data on feeding

at least a ranch of 16000 ha for economy of scale

group ranching: land adjudication cause difficulties




relatively high





trust land




relat. high















game cropping




high level required




Charcoal burning








6-24 per 10 years



investment: 1.2 - 1.4, maintenance often negligible



low to moderate




5.4.1 Smallholders Rainfed Arable Farming: Traditional Technology

This land utilization type is confined to those areas where major land qualities related to plant growth and plant production are adverse in character. Availability of modern inputs for farming does not play a role, since other overriding factors restrict their application. this land utilization type comprises shifting cultivation. The major constraint is the unreliable rainfall in both short and long rainy seasons. Shallow stony soils may occur, which render ox-farming both technically and economically impossible, as well as slopes, which increase the dangers of both sheet and gully erosion, particularly in view of the intensity of precipitation. (As a matter of fact, the use of tractors is completely out of the question.) Farming of this type is usually carried out in pockets along with other land utilization types (range management, forestry, etc.). Pests (including wild animals) are rife, leading to likely yield depressions.

i. Produce can be specified through a description of the cropping patterns. Cropping is essentially of a mixed nature and the concept of crop rotations does not apply; the intercropping varies from year to year and may thus in fact lead to rotational practices. Crop mixtures may contain: maize, sorghum, bulrush millet (Pennisetum typhoideum), pigeon peas, green grams (Cicer arietum) and various types of beans, cowpeas (Vigna sp.), cassava (Manihot utilissima) and perennial castor (Ricinus communis). Beans are the most obvious cash crops in years of good rainfall, as is castor which grows semi-wild. When blocks of castor are established, pests increase rapidly. Besides the mixed cropping as a device for reducing risk, there are two other approaches to tackle the adverse nature conditions for cropping.
The first is to put more emphasis on perennials rather than annuals. This collection should include the well-established perennial castor, pigeon peas, cassava and mangoes (particularly in hill-foot sites, where crops benefit from subsurface seepage). Based on field observations, we recommend that attention should be paid to cashew. Perennial cotton probably cannot compete with either cashews or mangoes.
The second point concerns further emphasis on drought-resistant grain crops, i.e. sorghum and bulrush millet. The main advantages are the following.
Due to population pressure more intensive types of cultivation have to be practiced in low-rainfall areas. Traditional crops (maize, beans) decline in yield after a few years of cultivation, fertilizer inputs are too risky, hence a shift to sorghum and cassava becomes necessary.
Less funds will be required for famine relief, if a sensible shift could be made to these drought-resistant crops. Empirical evidence of maize and sorghum yields under variable rainfall points to the facts that hybrid vigour in sorghum gives the largest proportional yield increases at low yield levels; that fast maturing varieties planted at the onset of rains are sometimes able to set seed before late season drought conditions arise; and that the deep and profuse root structure of this crop provides tolerance to water stress in both very dry and very wet growing seasons. Present research evidence strongly supports the claim that the best available sorghums clearly and substantially outyield the best available maize under poor rainfall conditions.
Disadvantages of sorghum cultivation concern palatability (improved varieties have been the darker, bitter types, so far), the much larger problem of bird pests compared with maize, the larger labour input for preparing sorghum in the household, and marketability. There are also clear indications of labour constraints. Furthermore, the low support price of sorghum, 70 percent of that for maize, may encourage the allocation of resources at farm level towards the latter crop.
Because of low returns and intermittent labour requirements, this land utilization type has to be combined with other activities, such as charcoal burning and bee-keeping. Extensive range management, particularly goats in the drier areas and cattle in the parts with higher rainfall and less dense bush, is an important source of income. Market orientation is mainly toward subsistence, with limited local sales of surpluses.

ii. Capital intensity is necessarily low under traditional technology. Present and future investments are confined to bush clearing prior to cultivation. In addition, some simple hand tools are used. Fertilizers are absent. Depending on the type and thickness of vegetation the clearing requirement may be in the order of 100-200 man-days per ha. As regards recurrent inputs, seeds are the only item worthy of note. Only some farmers practice ox-farming. For the crop mix mentioned and at low levels of production, seed costs will be in the order of US$ 1.20 - 1.80 per hectare. Possibilities for improvements and other investments are in general not expected with present available information, in view of the inherent qualities of most of the land.

iii. Labour intensity is connected with the actual cropping pattern, the level of outputs and inputs, the degree of seasonality of agriculture and the relative scarcity of land and labour. Data on labour inputs are available according to the crop. Assuming that one out of two crops will give a reasonable yield in this land utilization type (based on rainfall probabilities), and that we are dealing with the previously mentioned crop-mixture, the estimated required number of man-months per hectare per year will be about 5, spread over a period of 8 months. Much of the work is in fact carried out by women and children.

iv. Power source is almost entirely manpower. Little scope is foreseen for a large extension of animal traction due to a combination of factors, i.e. tsetse, fodder scarcity, stony soils and slopes.

v. The level of technical knowledge in this land utilization type is low.
This hardly acts as a constraint, however, since few improvements on the present system have been produced by agricultural research. Indications are for increased importance of perennials and more drought- resistant grain crops. Thus, the technology employed is limited to hand cultivation, local seed varieties, no artificial fertilizers, and local, unimproved breeds of livestock.

vi. Infrastructure requirements for this land utilization type are very low, since crops are processed by domestic methods.
The size of land holdings varies greatly and though no precise information is available, estimates are in the range of 420 ha per farm household for the present situation. Assuming a 3% annual population increase, available gross farm size will be halved in about 20 years. Actual acreage cultivated is restricted to only 0.8-2.0 ha per household, depending on available family labour, which is the major constraint. However, this land utilization type consists of shifting cultivation, which requires the land to rest for a varying period of time after 2-4 years of cultivation. Moreover, as noted above, this particular type of shifting cultivation does not lend itself to intensification due to the vagaries of the climate, the condition of the soils, etc.
The following example illustrates the maximum carrying capacity of the land for this land utilization type. Assume that 30 percent of the land is suitable for arable farming, that the cultivation: fallow ratio is 1: 2 and that food requirements are obtainable from 0.25 ha/person/year with one successful season out of two. It can then be calculated that the maximum carrying capacity is 40 persons/kmē (7-8 families). Other sources of income should then cover the remaining necessary household expenditure beyond the staple food (livestock, charcoal, etc.). Apparently, the traditional land tenure systems do not generally act as an impediment to development of this land utilization type, except where the claims of clan members may surpass the minimum farm size required for an undisturbed functioning of the shifting cultivation system. The present land adjudication system, however, acts as a serious constraint in the functioning of shifting cultivation. In the past, clan members could more or less freely move within the boundaries of the (sub)clan's land. Land adjudication will now pin them down within a limited "property". Chances are real that the system of shifting cultivation practices will break down more quickly. It should be borne in mind, however, that there is no alternative to this use at present within the framework of arable agriculture.

vii. Income levels
An attempt to estimate potential net farm income from this land utilization type can be tentative only. With a crop mixture of maize/sorghum/millet, combined with beans/peas, at prevailing farm-gate prices and with the probability that one out of two seasons is agriculturally successful, value added is about US: 35-45 per annum per hectare actually cultivated, in addition to the income from a few head of domestic animals. Labour peak demands limit the area that can be cultivated to two hectares at the most for an average family. On the other hand, extension of the area through mechanization is too hazardous because of uncertain returns. This analysis points to the conclusion that this land utilization type usually cannot produce the total family income assumed to be a minimum of US$ 120-180 per annum, including the value of subsistence crops. This land utilization type has thus to be combined with extensive range management, seasonal or semi-permanent (male) labour migration, or off-farm income.

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