Food ultimately defines the human experience. Food is used across diverse cultures as a function of physical satisfaction and growth and as a symbol of unity, celebration, and togetherness. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs dictates that physiological needs like food and water, among others, are highly essential to human needs. Therefore, the value and impact of food security on any country’s population cannot be overstated.

FAO defines food security as a state of physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food by people to meet their dietary needs and personal preferences to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. Therefore, the government has an inherent mandate to uphold food security in Kenya, given the direct link of food supply and availability to its citizens’ overall socio-economic wellbeing. To achieve this, specific measures have been established, including food importation, to sufficiently meet the current food demands of our growing population. Nonetheless, there is a big chance that more of the food consumed by Kenyans is imported than produced locally.

Current Food Situation in Kenya

Kenya, as we know it, is home to nearly 55 million people – a population growth that has brought immense pressure and exploitation to the country’s available natural resources, especially arable land. This population trend is behind the current decline of the country’s rural-based economy as most people are rapidly moving to urban areas, thus lowering the ratio of producers to consumers. If you live in the city, you have probably noticed that most of the available land is being fast utilized for housing purposes. This is land that could otherwise be used for Agricultural production. The Kenyan urban sector is thus on the verge of getting overpopulated with under-nourished dwellers.

Moreover, while Agriculture is the dominating factor in the Kenyan economy, food production remains significantly low due to the high population rise, lack of incentives like funding, and poor infrastructure. To meet this looming food deficit, the government has thus opted for food importation to enhance food security in Kenya. The five most common food imports are wheat, palm oil, sugar, corn, and rice, as discussed in detail below.


Wheat is the leading food import in Kenya. This is despite the government’s multiple initiatives to ensure an increased wheat supply through the enhancement of the capacity of the local millers. Recent statistics reveal that the local wheat production in Kenya only meets about a third of the current demands hence the need for its continual importation.

Most wheat imported to Kenya is obtained from Russia, Pakistan, Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, and Germany and sometimes from Poland or Canada. The increasing demand can be highly attributed to the speedy expansion of the baking industry both domestically and commercially. Also, most supermarkets these days have instore baking units hence the high demand for wheat. Given this analysis, we can conclude that a higher percentage of wheat consumed by Kenyans is mainly imported.

Packaged Fruits

Crude Palm oil

Kenya has had an incredible increase in crude palm oil import rate over the past 10 years. You might be wondering why this is the case, yet we have other available and easily substitutable oil products. While this is true, you might also want to note that available alternatives are way more expensive than palm oil. And so, to meet the never-ending demand for cooking oil, Kenya has, for the past decade, imported the product. Kenya mainly imports its crude palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia.


Another commodity that has had an enormous increase in demand and utilization over the years in Kenya is Sugar. According to the UN COMTRADE data on international trade, Kenya’s 2021 sugar imports hit about US$262.1 Million in 2021. This is a clear indication that our country has a sugar deficit. However, despite the insufficiency, more than half of the available sugar in Kenya is locally produced.

About 58% of the commodity is locally produced, whereas the remaining 42% is imported to sufficiently sustain consumer demands. Kenya relies mainly on sugar imports from Brazil, Mauritius, Thailand, and Egypt. We can also tell that Kenyans primarily consume locally produced sugar by the outstanding contributions of the sugar industry to the Kenyan economy. For instance, more than 10 million people draw their livelihoods directly or indirectly from the cash crop.

White Corn

Maize is a Kenyan staple food. And so, it is no surprise that its consumption has kept rising over the years. The commodity is also a key ingredient in animal feeds, meaning its daily demand keeps increasing in households and large-scale farming. While the government strives to enhance food security in Kenya through a state of self-sufficiency regarding maize production, we still, in fact, remain a maize deficit nation.

According to a report by the International Grain Council, Kenya ranks among the top in the list of Sub-Saharan African countries with significant maize imports. It is generally expected that Kenya will import about 3.4 million tonnes of maize this year. Most of the imports are restricted to the EAC states – Kenya thus relies heavily on Uganda and Tanzania to maintain a sufficient supply of maize.


The current meal diversification in Kenya has resulted in rice getting widely embraced by the locals making it our third staple food after maize and wheat. Its popularity is steadily increasing given its varying flavor and taste, high income, and simple preparation method. This trend has led to a significant increase in rice production in the country.

However, despite the significant increase in the production and supply of rice across the country over the years, the domestic supply fails to sufficiently meet the current growing demand hence the need for significant rice imports. Pakistan, India, Vietnam, and Thailand are among the countries Kenya generally imports from.

Other Food Imports

Other food imports in Kenya include fruits, vegetables, fish, pasta, and beverages. The Kenyan middle class is growing more keen and intentional about their buying trend. Most of the food products they prefer are of high quality and value. And where locally produced food commodities fail to meet the required standards, the government makes necessary imports to top up the existing supply.

To sum up

Our government has the mandate to ensure food security in Kenya. So far, this has been attained through necessary policy settings and legislative provisions on food safety and agribusiness. These general guidelines are essential for creating a conducive environment for Kenyans to access safe, affordable, and nutrient-dense food. This status can only be attained if the country has a sufficient food supply.

This article has revealed that while we can produce food in our country, it is necessary to import more food to meet the growing food demand and stabilize the supply. Whether we import more food than we produce locally may not have a straight answer since, as discussed above, food imports vary from one commodity to another; perhaps, the more important question should be why it is vital for Kenya to import food – to which the straight answer would be: to uphold the most crucial factor that makes a healthy republic, food security.

Related Post: What’s Affecting Wheat Prices in Kenya?

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