Following the British colonization of Kenya in 1985, formal laws and land administration were introduced which has resulted in a dual system of land laws and administration as local communities continued to hold land under their customary systems. This legacy has continued through time, and now Kenya is faced with land tenure challenges related to the inequitable distribution of land, rooted in land injustices of the past [1].

Land-use related problems in the country include deforestation, overstocking of animals, land degradation and land fragmentation. Kenya is an agricultural nation, with over 12 million people residing in areas with degraded lands. Unfortunately, the food crop productivity growth in the country has failed to exceed the population growth. Agricultural output in the country is constrained by many challenges including soil erosion, low productivity, agro-biodiversity loss, and soil nutrient depletion. Land exploitation that lacks compensating investments for soil and water conservation often leads to severe land degradation, translating to loss of rural livelihoods, diminished water supplies and threatened habitats [2].

In 2010, an estimated 37% of Kenya’s rural population were living on degraded land and three-quarters of those (29% of the total rural population) lived in non-remote areas [3]. As of 2019, an estimated 11.4% of Kenya’s total land area was degraded [4], and in the last ten years, arable land per capita has reduced.


In Kenya, rapid population growth and urbanization has placed increasing pressure on available land, leading to loss of vital agricultural land. Agricultural land has been replaced for residential use and the development of slums in urban areas.

In addition, the amount of pastoral land is dwindling due to agriculture, transport infrastructure, oil exploration/exploitation projects and the production of geothermal and wind energy. Poor enforcement of zoning and land use regulations has been responsible for some of the land use shifts.

Key drivers of land degradation in Kenya include deforestation; overgrazing; poor agricultural activities (overuse of fertilizers, up-down hill ploughing); forest fires; poor spatial planning; mining and sand harvesting [5].


Key policies and governance approach

The general principles of good governance in Kenya are set out in Article 10 of the Constitution, mirrored in the National Land Policy and various land laws [6].

Kenya’s National Land Policy (2009) recognizes and protects customary rights to land; outlines principles of sustainable land use and provides productivity and conservation targets and guidelines; calls for reform of land management institutions to ensure devolution of power, increased participation and representation, justice, equity, and sustainability; establishes the National Land Commission, District Land Boards, and Community Land Boards; calls for the development of a legal and institutional framework to handle land restitution and resettlement for those who have been dispossessed; and calls for reconsideration of constitutional protection for the property rights of those who obtained their land irregularly [7].

Additionally, the Constitution of Kenya (2010) designates all land to belong to the people of Kenya collectively. Article 232 provides key principles for good governance that relate to the behaviour and conduct of public officers while discharging their duties, including land management and administration [6].

The Land Act, 2012 consolidates and rationalizes land laws in Kenya and provides sustainable administration and management of land and land-based resources. It also provides for the Land and Environment Court jurisdiction and on public land, identifies forest land as one of the public lands that cannot be allocated to anyone [6].

More recently, the Community Land Act, 2016 provides for the recognition and registration of community land rights, management and administration of community land, and the role of the County Government in relation to unregistered community land. It provides that all current land held in trust by the County Government will be registered and the communities issued with title deeds to secure and preserve their land from arbitrary excisions and allocation without community consent. The Act establishes a Community Land Management Committee, which shall be elected by a community assembly consisting of all adult members of the community [6].

The National Land Commission (NLC) is an independent Commission established under Article 67 (1) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. It manages and administers, amongst other things, public land on behalf of the National and County Governments. The NLC has developed a strategic plan for 2020-2025 which provides guidance and direction to the Commission in achieving its mandate and functions for the next five years. The Strategy outlines five key results: (i) Management and administration of public land; (ii) Use of land and security of land rights; (iii) Revenue generation from land and land based resources; (iv) Land dispute resolution and conflict management; and (v) Institutional strengthening [8].

Kenya, as a party to the UNCCD, is also implementing its National Action Programme (NAP). The NAP is a plan supported by international co-operation arrangements and aims at reclaiming degraded areas, reducing further degradation, and conserving areas that are not degraded. It creates an enabling framework for Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) implementation and captures information on best practices used in Kenya to address Land Degradation, Droughts and Desertification (LDDD) and livelihoods in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands. These practices include bee keeping, gum tree farming, moringa tree farming and Aloe vera farming, and the use of technology in forecasting impact of climate change, among others [5].


Successes and remaining challenges

The institutional terrain for land and natural resources in Kenya is dominated by multiple actors and institutions, informed by the specific laws and interests. The systems, however, experience some overlapping roles/mandates. The multiplicity of institutions and overlapping functions within the land and land-based resources management signify the possibility of conflicts, lack of accountability and transparency, and jeopardize meaningful participation of the people and the enforcement and coordination elements. There is a need for integration of functionalities of land-related institutions and enhancing coordination and communication [6].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Under the AFR100 Initiative (a Pan-African country led effort to bring 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes under restoration by 2030) and the Bonn Challenge, Kenya has committed to the restoration of 5.1 million hectares (Ha) of land.  This is supported by the ongoing Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) project which informs work on a number of international commitments including the New York Declaration, as well as the implementation of the national Strategy on 10% tree cover by 2022 [5].


Goals and Ambitions

To reverse the decline in land productivity in Kenya, the Government has set Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) targets at the national and subnational scale. Subnational LDN targets aim to achieve a neutral (no net loss) or improved (net gain) state allowing Kenya to focus on areas that have been identified as degradation “hot spots” and/or are considered to be a high-value priority in achieving LDN [5].

Specific LDN targets to avoid land degradation in Kenya include [5]:

  • Increase forest cover through Afforestation/Agroforestry in existing forests; areas of shrubs/grassland; wetlands; croplands by 5.1 M Ha.
  • Increase by 16% net land productivity in forest, shrub land/grassland and cropland showing declining productivity; achieved through SLM practices.
  • Increase soil organic carbon by 319626 total tonnes in cropland land use, achieved through SLM practices.
  • Halt the conversion of forests to other land cover classes by 2030.
  • Rehabilitation of all abandoned Mining and quarrying areas through enforcement of by- laws.

[6], [7]

  • Thorough implementation of the National Land Policy (NLP)
  • Establish programmes relating to the land use planning, land surveying and mapping, and establishment of computer based land information management systems.
  • Strengthen capacity to populate adequately the departments in both National and County government as well as the private sector specifically in such technical areas as physical planning, land surveying, valuation, ICT and land administration.
  • Strengthen local and traditional conflict resolution bodies through education and legal assistance. The NLP calls for Land Boards to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Raise comprehensive awareness about land rights.
  • Kenya’s land reform process should prioritize: a strong political will to achieve land reforms; supporting state organs to deliver on their mandates; acquisition of land to settle the landless; securing land rights and tenure in various contexts for citizens and non-citizens; developing a land use policy to promote land settlement and productive land use; and facilitating public access to information and participation in land management and utilization.
  • There is a need for integration of functionalities of land-related institutions and enhancing coordination and communication.
  • Since land-related problems are historically, economically, technically, culturally, and politically complex, there is a need to cooperate with various Government agencies to obtain an integrated system that can spur socio-economic and ecological development.