To achieve the much desired status of a middle or high economy, a country needs to invest heavily in the economy but this is not possible if the rate of population growth far overtakes that of the economy. A population policy comes into the picture to try to manage the growth of population.



The issue of population policies makes for a great and dynamic debate. A population policy is a set of measures taken by a country to manage the way its population is changing, either by encouraging increasing its size, or by encouraging reduction of births to decrease the size.

Before the international Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) of 1994 the objectives of population policies were to;

  • reduce mortality(deaths) by improving health
  • limit births where the population was growing too quickly
  • encourage births if the population was growing too slowly,
  • control migration (movement of people in/out)

After the conference, population issues were placed at the centre of development and the main goal of population policies changed to that of enhancing the well-being of individuals.

Population size is not the only challenge that population policies deal with. The structure is also important in terms of age, sex, and ethnicity.  There is no ideal age composition of a population but the best age structure may be one which minimizes the population which cannot not work (under 15 and over 64 years) and increases the number of working-age adults. This would involve reducing the elderly persons whose numbers are increasing fast in many countries because when the elderly population is small, a country can maximize the proportion of working-age adults by promoting a sudden decrease in fertility to cause a reduction in the proportion of young people. However, a large young population in a developing country if healthy, educated and skilled can open an exceptional window of economic and social opportunity which is normally temporary and short-lived and referred to as Demographic Dividend.

The proportion of boys to girls (sex ratio) in most countries is normally almost equal/perfect at birth but more deaths among males brings imbalance later.

The issue of ethnicity is related to the size of particular ethnic groups which is important in some countries, Kenya included because of cultural and resource allocation issues.


 Why Manage Population Growth?

Population growth is closely linked with economic development. The general idea of economic development is about reducing three challenges; poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Initially when population is increasing it creates the need for services and the economy grows as infrastructure for services is developed and people live long as conditions are good and migrate less. However, with time the population growth if not managed outweighs the economic growth and strains the available services, living conditions become poor while people live less years.

Besides the negative effects on the quality and length of life, rapid population growth increases challenges of supplying basic needs of food, water, energy and housing which with time leads to negative effects in public health, education, security and economic growth. Plant and animal species are also adversely affected by the rapid population growth negative consequences of climate change, pollution, over exploited natural resources, habitat loss, acidic oceans, over fishing, poaching which can lead to death or extinction of some species.

Some effective measures which can be employed to manage population growth are delaying marriages, improved medical facilities, legislative actions, incentives towards smaller families, increased awareness on population and reproductive health issues, women empowerment, reducing poverty and education.

Some countries have coercive (forced) population policies where some form of punishment is inflicted on citizens who act against the government policy while others have persuasive policies which inform, encourage and motivate people to action.


Population Policy for National Development – Kenya

Kenya has had population programs since 1967. The population of Kenya has increased from 8.6 million in 1962 to about 49 million in 2018 out of which about 16 million are between the ages of 10 and 24 years. Recent growth in the economy is an average of 5% per annum whereas population growth rate is about 2.9% per annum.

The National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) develops population policies, coordinates their implementation and advises the government on population matters. The current population policy is the Population Policy for National Development which came into effect in 2012 and is expected to guide the country up to 2030.

Policy Approach: Persuasive

Policy Goal: Attain a high quality of life for the people of Kenya by managing population growth to a level that can be sustained within the available resources.

TARGET: Reduce the number of children a woman has over her lifetime from 5 in 2009 to 3 by 2030

Session Paper No. 3 of 2012, Population Policy for National Development


The population program has achieved remarkable success over the past three decades. Births have declined from over 8 children per woman in the 1980s to about 4 children currently and contraceptive prevalence ate (CPR- contraceptive use among married women) has risen from 27% in 1989 to 58% in 2014. Other great strides have been reducing infant mortality from 60 per 1000 live births in 1989 to 39 per 1000 live births in 2014 and child mortality from 32 per 1000 live births in 1989 to 14 per 1000 live births in 2014.

The recent decline in fertility rates should not lull the leadership into complacency because the underlying population momentum from the huge youth population continues to pose a real and significant problem. To ensure continued success of the population policy, NCPD has focused on increasing the knowledge factor in the country through education and advocacy towards smaller, healthier and quality families and demographic dividend.



For a population policy to succeed, it demands strong leadership, commitment and courage, widespread support among the population and adequate resources. The role of political, religious and cultural leadership in Kenya must be re-evaluated so that instead of being a hurdle in reproductive behaviour they become an important part of the solution.

The Kenyan population policy must be assigned a top priority in the overall development plans of Kenya because a rapidly growing population is a challenge that will slow down or make extremely difficult, the attainment of VISION 2030 (Kenya to achieve upper middle income status) development prospects, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and demographic dividend.


Author: Wambui Kungu – Programme Coordination, Monitoring & Evaluation