Common Bean Farming in Zimbabwe
The common bean is one of the principal crops grown in Zimbabwe as a source of nutrition, income and food security. Owing to the ever-changing climate and the limited access to the markets on the global scene, Zimbabwe recorded a significant decrease in bean production in the last decade. Despite this decrease, the common bean remains one of the popular cash crops among farmers as it is increasingly substituting meat consumption in the general population. In spite of the climate change, Zimbabwe is endowed with a favourable bean farming climate and abundance of suitable land which means the potential for greater yields is there.
Afriagromarketer, motivated by this potential for greater yields, is therefore working closely with rural and small-scale farmers by providing them with technical farming support as well as guaranteed access to international markets. With knowledge of export market requirements and a guaranteed market, these farmers can start producing with a commercial mindset. Locally, beans are not only consumed in individual households, but they are also staple food in large institutions such as boarding schools, hospitals and prisons. Internationally, the demand for dried beans results from increased consumer attention to healthy food, interest in exotic cuisines and product innovation.
Agro-ecological regions of Zimbabwe.
For better understanding of any farming in Zimbabwe, it’s important to first look at the agricultural regions. There are 5 agro-ecological regions, classified according to soil quality and amount of rainfall received. In Zimbabwe, the bean crop is produced at a small-scale level, in almost all the five natural regions but more particularly in Regions III to V. As shown in Figure 1 below, natural Region III is located mainly in the mid-altitude areas of the country while natural Region IV is located in the low-lying areas in the north and south of the country. Natural Region V covers the lowland areas below 900m above sea level in both the north and south of the country. Across the regions, the predominant farming system is small-scale agriculture which also accounts for the largest output of bean production as we will show later on.
Figure 1: Agro-ecological regions of Zimbabwe.
Bean Varieties grown in Zimbabwe
There are a number of bean types and varieties farmed in Zimbabwe, with some more recently introduced while others have been there for many years. These can be categorized as local, improved and unidentified. The most popular type is the kidney beans (sugar beans) which has a number of varieties such as light speckled kidney bean, red speckled kidney bean (Nua 45), cherry kidney bean (cherry sugar bean), followed by other types such as soya bean (soybean) and bambara bean (groundnut). Please note that the names in brackets are the most common local names used in Zimbabwe.
Bean Production Stats
According to a study conducted by Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStats) in 2016, small-scale farmers account for more than 80% of total bean production in Zimbabwe. Small scale farmers of beans are found in all the 5 agro-ecological regions, but the highest concentration is in regions III, IV and V which are characterized by relatively low rainfall (annual rainfall of 450-750 mm) and intermittent dry seasons. These are favourable conditions for bean farming. 44 of the 60 districts in Zimbabwe grow the bean crop. The crop is usually cultivated in these aforementioned regions during the rainy season which runs from October through to April. There are however some farmers who are able to also plant the crop in the winter outside the usual farming season under irrigation. In most cases these are medium to larger scale farmers who can afford irrigation facilities.
Figure 2: Bean output per type of farming (2016)
Source ZimStat, 2016
ZimStats reported, in 2016 rural farmers produced 3,807 tons of beans accounting 37% of the total output. This was followed by the A1 and A2 famers who produced 2,431 (23%) and 2,231 (22%) respectively. Farmers from old resettlements (also falls under the category of rural farmers) produced 1,398 tons an equivalent to 14%. Small scale commercial farmers produced 353 (3%) while large scale commercial farms produced 149 tons contributing 1% to the total output. The A1, A2 and small-scale commercial farmers can broadly be categorized as small-scale farmers, the only difference among them being the landholding tenure and size of the farms. These farmers together with the rural and old resettlement farmers are the group of farmers that Afriagromarketer is working with in producing for the export market as we know there is potential capacity for massive production.
Characteristics of the different types of farms where bean is produced
In the rural areas, farming is labour intensive and relies mainly on ox-drawn farming methods. In A1 farms, farming units were created from large-scale commercial farms, which consisted of demarcated villages with each household allocated 5 arable hectares and with communal grazing. Similarly, in A2 farms, farming units created from acquired large-scale commercial farms, based on self-contained farming units. Old resettlement communal land also engages in labour-intensive production system using ox-drawn implements thus semi-commercialized. Small-scale commercial farms have a leasehold title to land and they also engage in labour-intensive production with little use of tractor-drawn implements. Afriagromarketer seeks to embark on a transformation of the approach from being labour intensive among these farmers by introducing semi-mechanized approach which will increase production. Large commercial farms have freehold title to land and highly mechanized as well as fully commercialized. (Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance, 2017). It is Afriagromarketer’s mission to increase the bean production in Zimbabwe to create enough yield for local consumption as well as for the export market. This is achieved through local farmer coordination and technical farmer support.
Common bean production in Zimbabwe remains attractive because the returns on the local market are descent but the international market makes it even more attractive. There is room to boost production and yields in the form of technical support, increased access to markets and maximising on new varieties that are resistant to various diseases and tolerant to the changing climate.