Population Growth and Agricultural Change in Africa

By B. L. Turner; Goran Hyden et al. | Go to book overview

3 / Increasing Variability in Agricultural Production: Meru District, Kenya, in the Twentieth Century

F. E. Bernard

Kenya's current rate of population growth, 3.7 percent per year, is one of Africa's and the world's highest ( Population Reference Bureau 1987). At this rate of growth, Kenya's national population of 26.2 million will expand to almost 45 million by the year 2000 ( Population Reference Bureau 1992). Although rural-to-urban migration is causing Kenya's towns and cities to grow at twice the rate of natural increase, about 85 percent of its people are still rural ( Kenya 1986a). Only 17 percent of rural Kenya is of medium or high agricultural potential.1 Population densities and population pressure on this small island of good land, primarily in the highlands east and west of the Rift valley, have been building rapidly over the past generation, now reaching several hundred persons per square kilometer--some of the highest rural densities in Africa. Technological and structural innovations and periodic intensification have also characterized agricultural change in this region over the past forty years.

Among the most pressured regions in this island of heavy density are the nine districts of the Eastern and Central Provinces (fig. 3.1) clustered around Mount Kenya. Population-land relationships here are high (table 3.1). Raw densities in the region range from 29 persons/km2 in vast and mostly semi-arid Kitui, which has a low capacity to support rain-fed agriculture, to the high-potential Kikuyu districts of Nyeri, Murang'a, Kirinyaga, and Kiambu, all with raw densities of over 200 persons/km2. Parts of Kiambu District, which is at Nairobi's doorstep, possess rural densities in the 600 to 1,100 persons/km2 range ( Kenya 1981).

Physiologic densities, perhaps a more realistic measure, surpass the 200 persons/km2 mark, with the exception of Nyandarua, yielding average amounts of land per person significantly below Kenya's estimated

-80-

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