The 5 biggest product categories for exports from Kenya were coffee, tea and spices; live trees, plants and cut flowers; unknit or non-crocheted clothing and accessories; fruits and nuts; and vegetables. Collectively, those 5 categories were worth 58.6% of the total value of all Kenyan exported goods in 2020.
The latest available country-specific data from 2019 shows that 67.9% of products exported from Kenya were bought by importers in: Uganda (10.7% of the global total), United States (8.7%), Netherlands (8.1%), Pakistan (7.6%), United Kingdom (6.7%), United Arab Emirates (6.5%), Tanzania (5.6%), Rwanda (3.9%), Egypt (3.2%), China (2.5%), Democratic Republic of Congo (2.3%) and South Sudan (2.1%).
From a continental perspective, 37.9% of Kenya’s exports by value were delivered to fellow African countries while 27.4% were sold to importers in Asia. Kenya shipped another 24.8% worth of goods to Europe.
Smaller percentages went to North America (9.4%), Oceania led by Australia (0.4%) and Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.1%).
Given Kenya’s population of 48.7 million people, its total $4.95 billion in 2020 exported goods translates to roughly $100 for every resident in the East African country.
Kenya’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Kenyan global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Kenya.
- Coffee, tea, spices: US$1.4 billion (27.7% of total exports)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $712.7 million (14.4%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $279.8 million (5.7%)
- Fruits, nuts: $268.9 million (5.4%)
- Vegetables: $266.3 million (5.4%)
- Gems, precious metals: $264.7 million (5.4%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $247.4 million (5%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $149.6 million (3%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $142.7 million (2.9%)
- Iron, steel: $72.3 million (1.5%)
By value, Kenya’s top 10 exports accounted for 76.4% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Gems and precious metals was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 958.4% from 2019 to 2020. That triple-digit gain was propelled by Kenya’s higher international sales of gold.
In second place for improving export sales was knitted or crocheted clothing and accessories via a 36.4% increase.
Kenya’s shipments of fruits and nuts posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 31.5%.
The lone decliner among Kenya’s top 10 export categories was iron and steel thanks to a -46.4% drop year over year.
From the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, tea including flavored varieties represents Kenya ’s most valuable exported product at 22.4% of the country’s total. In second place were fresh or dried flowers for bouquets or ornamental purposes (12.8%) trailed by coffee (5.2%), gold (4.9%), dates, figs, pineapples, mangoes, avocadoes and guavas (3.8%), fresh or chilled leguminous vegetables (3%), unknit and non-crocheted men’s suits or trousers (2.4%), titanium ores and concentrates (also 2.4%) then unknit and non-crocheted women’s clothing (1.9%).
The following types of Kenyan product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Coffee, tea, spices: US$1.3 billion (Down by -2.6% since 2019)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $707.3 million (Up by 10.6%)
- Gems, precious metals: $259.1 million (Up by 1,848%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $243.3 million (Up by 36%)
- Fruits, nuts: $229.7 million (Up by 30.6%)
- Vegetables: $196.1 million (Up by 11.6%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $136.9 million (Down by -1.1%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $121.3 million (Up by 28.1%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $37.2 million (Down by -53.4%)
- Paper yarn, woven fabric: $31.6 million (Down by -14.9%)
Kenya has highly positive net exports in the international trade principally for tea, coffee and spices like ginger, pepper, cloves and vanilla.
Kenya incurred an estimated -$10.7 billion trade deficit for 2020, down by -6.2% from -$11.4 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Kenya that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Kenya’s goods trail Kenyan importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.29 billion (Down by -55.2% since 2019)
- Machinery including computers: -$1.21 billion (Down by -19.8%)
- Vehicles: -$1.18 billion (Up by 4.9%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1.18 billion (Down by -1.7%)
- Iron, steel: -$927.6 million (Up by 18.7%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$828.1 million (Up by 32.7%)
- Cereals: -$686.9 million (Down by -17.0%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$651.6 million (Up by 53.9%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$482.4 million (Up by 9.5%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$388.6 million (Up by 48.2%)
Kenya has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels particularly refined petroleum oils, petroleum gases and coal.
Kenyan Export Companies
According to MarcoPolis.net rankings, the following are the top 10 Kenyan companies. Six of these companies are banks, which can support Kenya’s international trade projects.
- Safaricom (telecommunications)
- East African Breweries (beverages)
- Equity Banking (banking)
- Kenya Commercial Bank (banking)
- British American Tobacco (tobacco)
- Standard Chartered Bank (banking)
- Co-operative Bank of Kenya (banking)
- Lafarge-Bamburi Cement (cement)
- Barclays Bank (banking)
- Diamond Trust Bank (banking)
Wikipedia also lists exporters from Kenya. Selected examples are shown below.
- Cooper Motor Corporation (automobiles)
- Kakuzi Limited (coffee, tea, fruits)
- KenolKobil (petroleum)
- Sasini (tea, coffee)
- Total Kenya (petroleum)
In macroeconomic terms, Kenya’s total exported goods represent 1.9% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($262.7 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 1.9% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 1.8% for 2019. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Kenya’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Kenya’s average unemployment rate was 7.2% at September 2020, up from 4.7% one year earlier per Trading Economics.
Kenya’s capital city is Nairobi, nicknamed the “Safari Capital of the World” and the “Green City in the Sun”.
See also Kenya’s Top 10 Imports, Top African Export Countries, Coffee Exports by Country and Tea Imports by Country
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Africa: Kenya. Accessed on July 4, 2021
Forbes 2020 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on July 4, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity)
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on July 4, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on July 4, 2021
MarcoPolis.net, Top 10 Companies in Kenya, Kenya Report. Accessed on July 4, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 4, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Kenya. Accessed on July 4, 2021
Wikipedia, Kenya. Accessed on July 4, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 4, 2021