Corruption: Types and Effects on Kenyan Agricultural Projects

When we hear about corruption from social media or mainstream news outlets, we quickly think about the public or private monies lost to a few self-centered individuals in senior positions of authority, who have an unquenchable and unhealthy appetite for self-enrichment, either to rise up the social ladder or maintain their status in society. A few actually stop to think about the repercussions of these unethical acts on the beneficiaries of these stolen funds and society at large.

Kenya was ranked position 123 out of 180 with a 32/100 score in the 2022 Transparency International Corruption Index. These figures were reported despite the existence of institutions like EACC, which have been mandated to tackle this vice that has been crippling nearly all economic sectors. In this country, the word “corruption” is synonymous politicians. However, this vice has permeated and is equally prevalent among professionals tasked to oversee the implementation of different scale projects in important sectors like agriculture.

Many high value agricultural development projects have been launched across the country, some independently and others running concurrently, targeting smallholders, whose survival largely rests on yields from their farms. Their main objective is to improve food security and address hunger by bolstering smallholder farmers’ resilience, primarily through the adoption of improved farming practices. Transparency, honesty and accountability remain integral success drivers for these projects, without which, there can be detrimental impacts on land tenure, water allocation, service availability, credit access, quality of supplies, and agribusiness development.

While climate change and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic have been linked with recent shocks registered in the agricultural sector, corruption, facilitated through weak governance, remains a major problem that continues to derail agricultural performance across the country.  The following are three of the most important ways through which corruption has been manifesting, stalling and limiting the efficacy of agricultural projects in rural Kenya.

Embezzlement: Occurs when the motivation for personal material gain outweighs the desire to improve the living standards of the communities set to benefit from a project. Embezzlement occurs when funds allocated for inputs, training or other activities fail to reach smallholder farmers. During one of my work assignments, I encountered farmer groups who had received funding in a large-scale project after writing successful proposals. Entities charged with disbursing the money failed to do so, and the farmers were left grief-stricken. One of the groups pursued legal action to ensure that the implementers acted in accordance with what was just.  Another group shared their experience of not receiving their funds, but later on, the implementers visited them and took a photo of them standing in front of a farm with the same crop they had secured funding for. It seems likely that they were deceived, as the photos were likely were presented to investors as proof of the group’s responsible handling of the allocated funds. The implications of embezzlement can be dreadful when such heists are perpetrated on a large scale. Yet, millions of funds that could support agribusiness development continue to be diverted to personal pockets.

Procurement: Smallholders, especially those funded by external parties, often rely on established institutional frameworks and structures for the acquisition of inputs and other supplies. However, these acquisition processes are a common source of corruption, with entities charged with sourcing inputs for smallholders awarding tenders to individuals or businesses   likely to give them kickbacks, instead of prioritizing those that can deliver quality materials on time.  This behavior is pervasive because the private companies and governmental structures controlling the procurement processes have weak regulations. As a result, farmers end up receiving low quality or undelivered planting materials, unhealthy farm animals and undelivered or very low quality farm equipment. In one of my experiences, smallholder farmers funded to receive dairy goats were given indigenous breeds whereas those set to receive improved indigenous chicken were either supplied with unvaccinated chicks or local chicken! The unhealthy indigenous chicks did not survive beyond the initial month. Such corrupt tendencies make it impossible for well-designed projects likely to generate admirable impacts on smallholder livelihoods to achieve these outcomes.

Favoritism and Nepotism: This form of corruption affects resource allocation as well as the quality of human resources tasked with manage and oversee project implementation. Some smallholders might find it difficult to access products, services, technologies or facilities where processes are riddled corruption and favoritism as they have no one to protect or push for their interests. Some might enjoy a guaranteed access to a technology or service due to their close associations with project implementation leaders while the vast majority might not. Similarly, instead of prioritizing qualifications when hiring professionals to access those who can aptly contribute to project success those in charge of projects can opt to recruit friends, relatives and friends of friends to important positions regardless of their suitability to hold given job positions.

In conclusion

The effects of corruption in agricultural projects are extensive with wide-reaching consequences to smallholder farmers, who have limited power and capacity to raise their voices even when they have the right to do so. As a result, they are always rendered helpless and left to watch the injustices committed against them. Their only option is always to cry foul and eventually pick themselves and move to the next available opportunity, with the hope that one day things will finally work out for them. Corruption has impeded the ability to run successful and impactful projects that can ultimately solve year-in-year-our smallholder farmer problems, such as food insecurity, financial hardships, reduced revenues from farm output, reduced access to vital resources, and production of insufficient food for household consumption. These failures will keep these people in poverty forever and continue to reduce the sector’s overall growth.


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