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Country Profile

Kenya has long been the economic hub of East Africa, but despite significant economic strides in the past decade, poverty and inequality remain.

Our long-term support for research in the country has focused on areas such as rural development, agriculture, health, education, and climate change adaptation.

We have also prioritized economic research to strengthen economic debate and promote evidence-based decision-making. For example, IDRC helped launch the Nairobi-based African Economic Research Consortium. Now an independent public organization, the Consortium is addressing the shortage of policy-oriented economic researchers in sub-Saharan Africa. Hundreds have graduated from the Consortium’s master’s and doctoral programs, and they now form a cadre of influential economists who contribute to their national economies from within the region’s governments, private sector, and universities.

Digital solution for peace

Researchers discovered that a deadly conflict in 2012 between farmers and nomadic herders in Kenya was fuelled largely by rumours. To prevent a repeat occurrence, Canada’s Sentinel Project and Nairobi’s iHub technology incubator launched “Una Hakika”, a mobile application that enables communities to report, track, and verify rumours. The application has reached approximately 45,000 beneficiaries in Tana Delta and is being scaled in Lamu County and Nairobi to reach approximately 1 million people.

Evidence-based policy for health

Research on the impact of communications and information technologies is strengthening Kenya’s health system. Thanks to our funding, the Kenya Medical Research Institute has generated the evidence needed by the Ministry of Health to revise the national e-Health strategy, develop the first-ever e-Health policy, and establish mobile health, or m-health, standards and guidelines. These health interventions are now better regulated to protect patient information and advance patient health. 

Total IDRC Support

604 research activities worth CAD142.1 million since 1972

Kenya scientist making calculations.

Our support is helping

  • improve access to justice for 1.5 million people in Nairobi’s informal settlements
  • address health inequities and examine the feasibility of e-Health in Kenya
  • restore and expand Kenya’s capacity to conduct high-quality policy-relevant research
  • enhance women’s economic opportunities
  • preserve farmers’ livelihoods with a cattle lung disease vaccine
  • strengthen farmers’ ability to deal with climate change impacts

Improving farmer adaptive capacity by integrating local and indigenous knowledge in climate forecasting

April 22, 2016

Despite the availability of more reliable forecasts from meteorological services in Kenya, farmers seldom use them for farm level decision-making. This case study discusses how downscaled forecasts and more accessible climate information can enhance the adaptive capacity of small-holder farmers. Research led by Sokoine University of Agriculture demonstrates the usefulness of integrating seasonal climate forecasting with farm management activities in the uncertainty of changing climate patterns.

Download the PDF

This brief resulted from two projects supported by the Climate Change Adaptation Africa program: the research project Managing Risk, Reducing Vulnerability and Enhancing Agricultural Productivity In a Changing Climate and the mentoring project Promoting Participatory Action Research through Structured Learning on Climate Change Adaptation in Africa.

The Adaptation Insights series is a joint publication of the  International Development Research Centre and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), supported by the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa program.

Adaptation Insights: Lessons from participatory research in Africa

April 21, 2016

The Adaptation Insights series consists of nine case studies from seven projects supported by the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa program. Each brief presents insights from research carried out with the active involvement of communities at risk from climate change. The series includes case studies from Benin, Burkina Faso, the Congo Basin, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal, and Zimbabwe.

These briefs highlight the experiences of teams applying participatory action research across Africa, testing adaptation options such as linking indigenous and scientific forecasters and creating agro-meteorological advisory tools and systems, among other approaches. The briefs were produced by individual research teams under the guidance of the Centre for International Forestry Research, through the Promoting Participatory Action Research on Climate Change Adaptation in Africa through Structured Learning project. Each research team was guided by an experienced mentor through an initiative that emphasized learning-by-doing and reflection.

Click on the titles below to access PDF versions of each brief.

Case studies


Agro-meteorological Early Warning to Reduce Agricultural Vulnerability to Climate Change : The Experiences of PARBCC in Benin

How can Political and Administrative Authorities Contribute to Local Community Adaptation to Climate Change in Benin?

Burkina Faso

Using Participatory Testing to Build Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation in Burkina Faso

Congo Basin

The Effects of Climate Change in the Congo Basin: The Need to Support Local Adaptive Capacity


Improving Farmer Adaptive Capacity by Integrating Local and Indigenous Knowledge in Climate Forecasting and Adaptive Response


Adapting to Cyclones in Madagascar’s Analanjirofo Region

Adaptive Options for Growing Atriatry Rice in the Context of Climate Change: The Case of Marovoay


A Regional Observatory for Producers’ Climate Change Adaptation in Thies, Senegal


Mobilizing Local Safety Nets for Enhanced Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change and Variability in Zimbabwe



Building policy leadership among HIV/AIDS health workers

April 21, 2016

Health workers need research, leadership, and policy skills to help create programs that respond effectively to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This innovative multi-country collaboration sought to strengthen HIV/AIDS health systems in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, the regions hardest hit by the pandemic, by building these skills among nurses and midwives.

This was accomplished by:

  • Improving the quality of HIV/AIDS nursing care

  • Supporting the scale-up of innovative HIV/AIDS programs and practices

  • Fostering engagement of researchers and research users in the policy development process

  • Providing a platform for developing research and leadership capacity among nurses and midwives

Using a participatory action approach, the project created “leadership hubs” that brought together frontline nurses and managers, researchers, decision-makers, and community representatives. These hubs helped forge communication links between frontline health workers and decision-makers.

Health workers improve health policies

Frontline workers have prolonged contact with patients and families, and frequently work across health-system sectors. They are well placed to help bridge the "know-do" gap and facilitate the uptake of evidence into policies. 

But studies suggest that health workers' knowledge and experience do not systematically inform policy decisions. Nurses' and midwives' contributions to policy development has been limited by a lack of research training, mentoring, and funds; limited experience with knowledge transfer; and few opportunities for dialogue with policymakers. This project confronted these challenges to help build capacity and bridge the gap between health workers and policymakers.

Universities in Kenya, Jamaica, South Africa and Canada, and Mulago Hospital in Uganda, collaborated on this initiative.

This project was part of the Teasdale-Corti Global Health Research Partnership Program. From 2005-2013, the Teasdale-Corti program supported 14 teams of researchers from Canada and LMICs. Teams developed, tested, and implemented innovative approaches for health and development. The Teasdale-Corti program was inspired by the remarkable work of Canadian surgeon Dr Lucille Teasdale and her husband, Italian pediatrician Dr Piero Corti. IDRC and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research co-funded the project.​

Learn more:

  • Read a journal article on the reliability of data collected by community health workers for policy and planning in Kenya

  • Read project summaries​ of the Teasdale-Corti Global Research Partnership Program (PDF, 275KB)

New bean products to improve food security

April 21, 2016

​New easy-to-cook bean products are set to improve food and nutrition security for low- and middle-income households in Kenya and Uganda. Researchers at Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organisation and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute have partnered with Canada’s Food Development Centre to provide expertise and services in developing and testing precooked bean products.

The new products are expected to increase bean consumption and reduce both the time women spend on household cooking and the wood fuel used. The new products are also set to create a larger, more lucrative market for smallholder bean farmers, most of whom are women. 

So far, 47 bean varieties have been tested for their suitability for precooking. Ten have been selected, and their nutritional value analyzed. This is the first time a full nutritional profile of bean varieties has been available in Kenya and Uganda. Two types of products — precooked beans and bean snacks — have been developed, and the latter tested with consumers in major supermarkets in Kenya and Uganda. To increase production of selected varieties, the researchers are collaborating with non-government organizations working directly with smallholder farmers and a private sector company, Lasting Solutions.

The project is funded under the Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAF) program, a four-year, $15 million fund that supports applied research to improve long-term food security in East and Southern Africa.

Learn more

Building accountability in large land acquisitions in Africa

April 20, 2016

Large-scale land deals can bring benefits such as jobs, infrastructure, and access to food and markets. But when badly managed, they can dispossess people in rural communities and spark conflict. Women and other vulnerable groups face the greatest risks. IDRC is funding research in Africa to find ways to make land acquisition processes more accountable and equitable.

At a meeting in Dakar, Senegal, in November 2015, five IDRC-supported teams are presenting preliminary findings from research carried out in 10 African countries. The teams represent close to 20 organizations — including universities, civil society organizations, and think tanks. Researchers are working with communities to increase their ability to negotiate equitable terms in large land deals and protect their rights.

Five policy-relevant themes are emerging from the preliminary findings:

  • Uneven community impact: Large-scale land acquisitions impact community members differently. For example, researchers found that women, youth, and the poorest community members often received less compensation for land than men and better-off neighbours.
  • Awareness and participation: Communities often lack awareness of decisions being made about land and natural resources and don’t participate enough in them. For example, researchers documented cases where the decision-maker on a land investment was not clearly identified.
  • Fair compensation: Communities’ land and land use needs to be fairly valuated for them to receive equitable compensation and a fair share of benefits and risks in land deals. Stronger procedural protections are needed for communities to leverage compensation and benefit-sharing.
  • Clear and secure tenure rights: More needs to be done to secure land tenure and natural-resource rights and create reliable mechanisms that lead to fair settlements. Communities and communal lands often face greater risks of conflict and insecurity where formal laws and rules do not protect customary tenure rights and uses.
  • Women’s participation: Researchers, rights advocates, and policymakers need to address the impact of large-scale land deals on rural women who face a double burden of exclusion, hindering their participation in decision-making.

IDRC-supported researchers will continue to translate their findings into action to prevent disputes, protect community members’ rights, and make large land acquisitions more accountable and equitable.

For more information read the synthesis report and the workshop report.

Read more about the five research projects on community rights in large land deals in Africa:

Highlight: Knowledge to Action: Improving Women’s Lives

April 18, 2016

Could childcare be the missing link to women’s economic empowerment in India, Kenya, and Canada? How does violence against women manifest in Colombia, Mexico, and Africa? How can we ensure that women who are victims of violence access justice and regain dignity?

These important issues were central at IDRC’s event “Knowledge to Action: Improving Women’s Lives,” an afternoon of panel discussions with top Canadian and international researchers on March 8, 2016. The seven speakers shared some of the results of important IDRC-funded research that can improve the lives of women around the world.

Childcare and Women’s Empowerment: Evidence from India, Kenya, and Canada

Women increasingly participate in economic activities around the world, but many mothers face a major constraint: how to balance childcare responsibilities with being breadwinners. The first panel explored the links between affordable, quality childcare and women’s enhanced decision-making, health, income, and job participation, as well as their children’s well-being.

Shelley Clark, founding Director of the Centre on Population Dynamics at McGill University, and Stella Muthuri, Post-doctoral Fellow at the African Population Health and Research Council in Kenya, shed light on the current landscape of childcare options in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi. Early findings from their research show that mothers who send their kids to daycare are more likely to work, and are more likely to have greater autonomy. The children’s health also tends to be improved if they attend daycare, and they exhibit fewer signs of cognitive delay.

Arijit Nandi, Assistant Professor at McGill University, discussed how a holistic daycare program run by Seva Mandir, an Indian non-governmental organization, affects women in the region of Rajasthan. His research analyzes how the program impacts women’s empowerment, socioeconomic outcomes, and mental health, as well as nutrition and health among children. Evaluating Seva Mandir’s program is providing crucial and reliable data that Nandi hopes will inform policy discussions on how daycare could be a useful mechanism to empower women.

Watch the first panel video

View their PowerPoint presentations (PDF, 29 MB)

Overcoming Violence against Women: Strong Communities, Legal Protection, and Crime Prevention

The second panel’s speakers explored the nature of violence in different contexts, whether the result of armed conflict in Colombia, organized crime in Mexico, or lack of legal protection around domestic work in some African countries. They also presented strategies to ensure that women who are victims of violence access justice and regain dignity.

Adelle Blackett, Professor of Law and William Dawson Scholar at McGill University, spoke about the harsh conditions experienced by women domestic workers in South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, and Kenya. She highlighted commonalities across country contexts, including the isolation that domestic workers often face. This isolation facilitates prevalent and invisible violence ranging from sexual assault to verbal and psychological forms of assault in the workplace. Her research emphasized the role of state laws in protecting domestic workers while recognizing the limits of their effectiveness when domestic workers cross national borders.

Veronica Martinez Solares, Latin American Program Director at the International Organization for Victim Assistance, brought to the fore the high prevalence of violence against women in the context of organized crime in Mexico. She discussed how violence resulting from the drug trade overshadows, transforms, and worsens other forms of violence, such as violence against women. As a result, informal networks emerge to report the crimes and women establish their own conditions to survive, resist violence, and fight impunity. Her research looked at ways to institutionalize some of the victims’ responses to violence, and emphasized the importance of strong law enforcement institutions.

Donny Meertens, who recently retired as an Associate Professor at Javeriana University in Bogota, discussed IDRC-supported research examining violent land dispossession during armed conflicts in rural Colombia and the access to justice for indigenous women. The research generated important knowledge that will prove significant in Colombia’s peace agreement process, where thousands of women victims of unpunished sexual violence will return to the countryside. In this context, the access to formal and informal justice systems, the desire to fight impunity, and the many ways to rebuild communities and their social fabric will be key to Colombia’s future.

Watch the second panel video

Canada's contribution to women's empowerment

Anju Dhillon, Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women, provided closing remarks at the event. Her comments shed light on Canada’s commitment to gender equality and the many ways Canada works to ensure that violence against women receives the attention it deserves from the international community.

Watch Anju Dhillon deliver her remarks

Read Parliamentary Secretary Anju Dhillon’s closing remarks (PDF, 22.5KB)

Highlight: Building a strong future for African-led HIV prevention research

April 14, 2016

The search for an HIV vaccine is shifting from labs in North America and Europe, to include a greater number of African institutions. African researchers are leading the charge. Based in cities at the centre of the epidemic, they are familiar with the affected populations, and are best placed to conduct testing of HIV candidate vaccines. On February 16-18, 2015 researchers met in Johannesburg, South Africa, to discuss the role of African researchers in the battle against this epidemic. 

Afri-Can Forum 2

Grant recipients of the HIV/AIDS Prevention Trials Capacity Building Grants Phase 2 program met over three days to share results and lessons learned from the past five years. This program was supported by both IDRC and Global Affairs Canada (GAC). It was part of the larger Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative (CHVI), an initiative of the Government of Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. More than 140 participants attended the Afri-Can Forum 2, which also brought together recipients of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) HIV vaccine discovery grants, international and government agencies, and donors.

Among the results showcased, the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative - Institute of Clinical Research (KAVI-ICR) was recognized as a world-class research institute and selected as an Ebola vaccine testing site and the World Health Organization’s African Centre in Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance. The ADAPT2 (African Development of AIDS Prevention Trial capacity) team members published an article in Science on their efforts to train parliamentarians to use research evidence in decision-making. The event was a platform to demonstrate the strong collaborations between Canadian and African organizations advancing HIV prevention research.

Foundations of scientific discovery

Phase 2 of the HIV/AIDS Prevention Trials Capacity Building Grants supported nine teams working to strengthen research capacity for African-led HIV/AIDS prevention trials in sub-Saharan Africa. Teams worked to develop the ability of African researchers and institutions to carry out randomized controlled trials, which allow for rigorous testing of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, including potential vaccines. More than 2,500 individuals were trained under the program in all aspects of HIV prevention trials, from scientific research to trial administration and management to communicating results.

Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council, spoke about recent advances in HIV vaccine development, stating that although “current interventions can bend the HIV epidemic, only a vaccine can end it.”

Learn more about the HIV/AIDS Prevention Trials Capacity Building program and read tweets from the Forum (#AfriCan2).

Visit the website Afri-Can Forum 2

Learn more about the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative (CHVI)

Highlight: Kenya selects first research chair on health systems

April 14, 2016

The Kenya National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), in collaboration with IDRC, launched Kenya’s first Research Chair on March 31, 2015 in Nairobi. Professor Fabian Omoding Esamai, the current Principal of Moi University’s College of Health Sciences, has been selected as the Health Systems Chair. Research will focus on a systems approach to improving maternal and child healthcare delivery in Kenya, specifically within primary care facilities.

Professor Esamai will play a crucial role in improving research capacity in this field, and at the same time, endeavour to bridge the gap between universities and industries working in health systems.

Speaking about the Research Chair program, Dr Moses Rugutt, NACOSTI’s Director General said, “Kenya, like many other African countries, suffers brain drain as professionals seek better remuneration and research facilities as well as funding opportunities abroad. This program is hinged on providing a conducive environment that facilitates research and innovation within our universities and will enhance the capacity of our local universities to attract and retain top-notch researchers.

Dr Simon Carter, IDRC's Regional Director for sub-Saharan Africa, lauded the launch of the Chair as a significant step forward in the field of health systems in Kenya. “The Research Chair will call for increasing relevance and utility of health systems research by making it more demand driven. It will suggest options for action by stakeholders including government, to embed research into decision-making to ensure that health systems research is grounded in political realities and have real positive impact on the lives of many Kenyans and beyond,” said Carter.

Learn more


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Nanotech extends shelf life of fresh fruit

October 9, 2015

An international research team is developing nanotechnology-based applications of hexanal, a natural plant extract that extends the storage life of harvested fruit

Bananas, mangoes and papayas: these tender tropical fruits are in high demand in export markets and an important livelihood source for producers. But freshness is key because these fruits spoil quickly and damage easily. The challenge is especially daunting where refrigeration is lacking. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of produce in tropical countries is lost in post-harvest handling.

Breakthrough research by Canadian, Indian, and Sri Lankan partners points to a promising innovation: nanotech applications of a natural plant extract called hexanal can be used to delay fruit ripening. Hexanal inhibits a plant enzyme that is responsible for breaking cell membranes during a fruit’s ripening process.

In initial research in India and Sri Lanka, scientists used a hexanal-impregnated formula to test the product on mangoes. Spraying orchards with a low concentration of the compound slowed fruit ripening by three weeks. The team is also developing “smart packaging” systems, made from materials such as banana fibre, that slowly release hexanal to extend storage life after fruit is harvested.

Higher incomes

These applications can boost farmers’ incomes. “Let’s say a mango farmer sprays half or one third of the orchard with the formulation,” explains Jay Subramanian, a professor at Canada’s University of Guelph. “He gets that same mango production but spread out over a three- to four-week window instead of just one week, which causes a major rush and a glut in the market, leading to low prices.”

In field trials, farmers were able to earn up to 15% more for their crop. Once harvested, the sprayed mangoes remained fresh for up to 26 days in cold storage and 17 days at room temperature.

Researchers at the University of Guelph, India’s Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and Sri Lanka’s Industrial Technology Institute are building on this early success. Under a second phase of funding through the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund, a joint initiative of IDRC and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, they are taking their investigations beyond Asia.

Together with institutions in Kenya, Tanzania, and Trinidad and Tobago, they are looking at hexanal applications with other fruits under different growing conditions. The research teams are testing a variety of sprays, coatings and packaging on bananas, citrus, papayas and even some Canadian tender fruits and berries. Each fruit presents its own unique challenges, such as ripening along different timelines, requiring fine-tuning of the application process.

Natural compound

Biosafety testing shows promise. Already approved as a food additive in the United States, hexanal leaves no harmful residues. “It’s a very natural compound,” says Dr Subramanian. “In our academic research we have found that if you spray or dip the fruit with it, within 48 hours it’s all gone — you can’t find even a trace using a microscope.”

A range of new materials is being developed, including wraps containing electro-spun or sprayed nanoparticles infused with hexanal for slow release of hexanal vapours. While exploring ways to delay ripening and improve shelf life, scientists are looking for opportunities to commercialise these technologies so they can be scaled up. The aim is to ensure the technology has a global reach and benefits low-income farmers, not just large producers.

Mary O'Neill is an Ottawa-based writer. This article was prepared for Asia Research News 2016.

Photos : IDRC | Vijay Kutty

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