In Kenya a new generation of area-based, multisectoral rural development programmes has been started, targetted on the country's extensive arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL). By mid 1983, six such programmes were operational, each supported by a foreign donor and implemented by the Government of Kenya. Six years after the detailed planning of the first programme began, the record looks patchy. District level planning and co-ordination hold promise, and some programme activities are going well. However, problems of slow and cumbersome planning and mobilization, a lack of community involvement in planning, too few technical successes, and remote prospects for institutionalizing the programmes if and when expatriate support is withdrawn are apparent. Behind these problems lie a number of basic obstacles, including the structure and orientation of the government's lack of support for the drylands among politicians, and the technical difficulties of raising dryland production. Faced with these obstacles, the ASAL programmes look set to run into continuing problems. Overcoming them will depend on both the success of recent government moves to deconcentrate, and patient support from both the government and the donors. Historically the prospects for such support are poor.