While the prevalence rates for wasting and underweight have declined over the past three decades, the stunting rate has increased to over a third (35%).

Undernutrition situation in Kenya

In Kenya, almost a third of the population (10 million people) are chronically food insecure. The country’s food and nutrition insecurity is often attributed to the performance of the agricultural sector. However, recent growth in the sector has not led to full food security for the country. In fact, in the last 30 years, per capita food availability has declined by more than 10%.

Acute and chronic undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies primarily affect pregnant and lactating women and children under five years of age. Although the Kenya under five mortality rate declined significantly between 2003 and 2009, it has increased in recent years. Undernutrition remains a significant contributing factor to child mortality. 7% of children under five are wasted and 16% are underweight. The prevalence rates for wasting and underweight have declined over the past three decades. However, the stunting rate has increased to over a third (35%) representing 2.1 million children.

Figure showing deteriorating rates of stunting in Kenya

Almost half (46%) of children aged between 18 and 23 months are stunted while children under six months are 11%. Mothers with a low body- mass-index tend to have children with higher stunting levels, while mothers with longer birth intervals reduce the likelihood of their children being stunted. The UNICEF table shows the trends of undernutrition in Kenya from 1993 to 2008 according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey.


Vision 2030, the long-term development blueprint, aims to transform Kenya into a globally competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life by 2030. Achievement assumes a healthy and productive human capital, nurtured by good nourishment from infancy into adulthood, in tandem with proper disease control, good hygiene and sanitation, and caring practices.

The estimated cost of stunting to Kenya’s economy in 2010 was over US$1 billion. Over 20 years it would result in the deaths of 700,000 people. Unless addressed undernutrition poses the biggest threat to Vision 2030. More imminently it poses a threat to meeting the Millennium Development Goal 1 on child survival.

Recent investments into agriculture, water and sanitation, social protection and health systems have not had an impact on the nutrition status. These programmes have not been sufficiently targeted to improving the nutrition status.

At national level, policies do not reflect the multi-faceted causes of malnutrition. Nutrition is barely referenced in most food security and related development policies and programmes. In the government’s Vision 2030, nutrition is conspicuously absent. Even the current health ministry strategy, relegates malnutrition to a sub-target under the twelfth priority of the second strategic thrust health. Kenya is also a signatory to several international conventions on hunger and malnutrition but this is has not been translated into tangible results.

Opportunities for influence

However, recent developments are encouraging. The new Kenya Constitution recognises the right quality and quantity of food as a basic right for children. Policies need to be aligned to this so that ministries of agriculture, education and irrigation and water are more nutrition sensitive.

The National Nutrition Action Plan is currently being finalised. It defines cost-effective and high impact activities, and includes a strategic focus on increasing the demand and use of research to influence policy and practice. Its success is hinged on a wholesale allocation of financial, human and operational resources.

Read the Kenya Situation Analysis (PDF) prepared for Transform Nutrition.

Stakeholder mapping

The Kenya stakeholder workshop took place in Nairobi, November 2012 and included participants from the Kenya Government, national NGOs and civil society organizations, international NGOs and bilateral and international donors and agencies. Organised by Save the Children, Kenya and the University of Nairobi, partners plotted the principal actors in the nutrition policy environment, drawing links to show their perceptions of the main funding and advice links. See the Stakeholder Mapping Report Kenya (PDF).