Bridging the Gap: Enhancing Kenya's Food Policy with Science-Based Evidence

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    CGIAR Initiative on National Policies and Strategies
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In an era where data is more valuable than oil, the pressing need to harness scientific insights for informed policy-making, particularly in the agricultural sector, has never been more critical. Kenya, faces the challenge of feeding a growing population amidst cases of limited land, climate change, and market volatility. The recent spikes in food, fertilizer, and fuel prices have not only underscored the fragility of its food systems but also highlighted the urgency for evidence-based solutions to ensure food security, nutrition and health. This reality underscores the importance of bridging the gap between agricultural policy and science, a task that calls for a deep dive into the current state of the Science-Policy Interface (SPI) within the country.

Our narrative sheds light on this crucial junction of policy and science in Kenya, exploring the multifaceted landscape where research meets policy-making. Despite the vibrant network of national and international research institutions within the country, a disconnect persists in effectively translating scientific findings into actionable policies. This disconnect not only hampers the realization of evidence-based policymaking but also constrains Kenya’s ability to institute effective food policies.

To gain an understanding of Kenya’s SPI as a critical juncture where research informs policymaking, a survey was conducted to seek perspectives from national and county government officials, private sector and donor representatives, and researchers. The findings paint a picture of a promising yet challenged SPI. Despite a growing recognition of the importance of integrating scientific evidence into policy, the process is fraught with systemic, financial, and data-related challenges. While research is often integrated into the early stages of policy development, its influence wanes in the implementation phase, highlighting a critical gap in sustaining evidence-based approaches throughout the policy cycle.

The study also identifies a disconnect between policymakers and researchers, exacerbated by organizational and cultural barriers, misaligned incentives, and lack of efficient mechanisms for data sharing and use. This underscores the need for a multifaceted approach to strengthen the SPI, emphasizing the importance of improving internal processes within research organizations and government bodies, enhancing coordination, and building capacity for both policymakers and researchers to engage more effectively in their use of evidence-based policy-making.

This investigation also reveals a landscape where policy and science endeavor to connect, yet often miss the mark, highlighting the potential for a more robust and evidence-based approach to agricultural policy in Kenya. It’s evident that while the intent to integrate research into policy exists, actual practice varies significantly, with research primarily influencing the early stages of policy development but not so during implementation and evaluation. This however presents an opportunity for continuous learning and adaptation of policies based on scientific evidence.

Systemic challenges that impede the seamless integration of scientific research into policy include organizational structures that do not support efficient collaboration between scientists and policymakers, and other barriers that limit the open exchange of ideas and evidence. Furthermore, financial constraints facing research leads to gaps in evidence that could inform policy decisions effectively.

The study also identifies a pressing need for improved data management practices, during collection, sharing, and utilization. This is compounded by the current landscape of data-related challenges, where access to reliable and relevant data for policy-making remains a significant barrier.

Engagement between policymakers and researchers also needs attention since it often results in sporadic and superficial interactions rather than sustained and meaningful collaborations. This underscores the importance of developing mechanisms that facilitate regular dialogue and cooperation between the two groups.

Harry Kimtai, Principal Secretary for Livestock Development, engages with CGIAR researcher at the Kenya Food Systems Conference booth.
Harry Kimtai, Principal Secretary for Livestock Development, engages with a CGIAR researcher at the Kenya Food Systems Conference booth on April 5th to 6th, 2023. (Photo credit: ILRI/Wilson Maina)

Given that evidence-based policy-making in Kenya’s agricultural sector is both crucial and challenged, it’s imperative to adopt strategies that bridge the gap between science and policy effectively. This can be done by transforming insights into actionable policies to substantially improve food security and agricultural sustainability. A possible roadmap for leveraging scientific evidence in policy-making includes:

  • Strengthen institutional capacity for evidence-based policy-making
  • Secure sustainable funding for agricultural research
  • Develop comprehensive data management systems
  • Foster regular engagement between policymakers and researchers
  • Enhance training and capacity building

Implementing these recommendations could significantly enhance the effectiveness of agricultural policies in Kenya, leading to improved food security, economic growth, and sustainable development. Failure to act however risks perpetuating the disconnect between valuable scientific insights and policy actions, undermining efforts to tackle the complex challenges. By embracing these actions, Kenya can set a precedent for evidence-based policy-making that other nations can follow, ultimately contributing to global efforts to achieve sustainable agricultural practices and food security. It is crucial to prioritize the SPI, foster a collaborative research and policy environment to drive sustainable development in ensuring food security, economic resilience, and the well-being of Kenya’s population.


Michael Keenan, Associate Research Fellow, IFPRI

Grace Njoroge, Research Associate, ILRI

Clemens Breisinger, Lead, CGIAR Initiative on National Policies and Strategies and Country Program Leader, Kenya, IFPRI

Joseph Karugia, Principal Scientist, Agricultural Economist and Policy Expert, ILRI

Leonard Kirui, Senior Manager, CIP

Richard Ndegwa, Acting Secretary for Research and Innovations, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development of Kenya

Joyce Maru, Senior Program Coordinator, CIP

This work is part of the CGIAR Research Initiative on National Policies and Strategies (NPS). We would like to acknowledge the contributions of Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development of Kenya and we would like to thank all funders who supported this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Trust Fund 

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