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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Ecological and farming systems
Report on bean production and utilization research in Malawi
MALAWI: FOCUS ON A BEAN CULTURE
E. Bortei-Doku, Ph.D.
P. W. Barnes-McConnell, Ph.D.
Michigan State University
0. T. Edje, Ph.D.
Bunda College of Agriculture
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan 48824-1035
B '~i LinZ
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ION 1: HISTORICAL OVERVIEW .. . . . . . . .
ION 2: ECOLOGICAL AND FARMING SYSTEMS . . . . .
A. Ecological Zones . . . . . . . . . .
A.1 The Southern Region . . . . . ..
A.2 The Central Region . . . . . . .
A.3 The Northern Region . . . . . . . .
B. Demographic and Ethnic Features . . . . . .
B.1 Population . . . . . . . . .
B.2 Ethnic Groups . . . . . .. . .
C. Social Organization and Agro-Ecological Adaptation
Among the Tumbuka, Chewa, and Nyanja of Malawi . .
C.1 The Northern Region: The Tumbuka-Hengas . .
C.2 The Central Region: The Chewas . . ...
C.3 The Southern Region: The Nyanjas . . . .
D. Gender-Specific Farming Activities . . . . .
D.1 Women in the North: The Tumbuka-Hengas ...
D.2 Women in the Central Region: Chewa Women . .
D.3 Women in the Southern Region: Nyanja Women . .
E. Agricultural Practices and Production . . . .
TION 3: REPORT ON BEAN PRODUCTION AND UTILIZATION RESEARCH
A. Utilization . . . . . . . . . . .
B. Leaf Pludking as Production Constraint . . . .
C. Maize and Beans in Association . . . . . .
D. Use of Leucaena Prunings as Fertilizer . . .
E. Growing Beans on Residual Moisture . . . . .
F. Plant Population and Planting Patterns . . . .
. . . .
. . . .
. . . .
. . . .
. . . .
. . . .
IN .LAWI .
G. Researching the Social Science of Bean Production/Utilization . 48
BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . ..... . . . . 52
MALAWI: FOCUS ON A BEAN CULTURE
SECTION 1: HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
The area now known as Malawi is a landlocked country in the south central
part of Africa. It occupies an area of about 45,747 square miles (118,484 sq.
km.), including inland water. Physically the country is long and narrow, about
504 miles (840 km.) from north to south and is situated between latitudes 9 1/2
and 17 south of the Equator. The country is generally about 60 miles wide,
being about 100 miles at its widest point.
Early human remains suggest that people lived in the region from the Stone
Age. They were apparently people who were small of stature, providing for
themselves by hunting, gathering and fishing. Their peaceful existence for
hundreds of years was ended when groups of Bantu peoples, most of whom were
pastoralists and agriculturalists, began migrating in from the north. Their
iron-making skills contributed to much of the dominance of these latter groups.
Later migrations of subgroups developed their own languages and cultures in
designated areas. Internal trading among the groups was a prevalent means of
providing needed commodities (Pachai, 1973).
Subsequent migrations of other African groups, as well as Arabs and
Europeans, contributed to the externalization of trade (initially the most
valuable goods being ivory). Over time, there was increasing conflict over
land, goods and eventually slaves. Certain powerful African groups began
providing slaves to the Arabs to work their large clove plantations on the
islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, etc. and then to the French in the Indian Ocean,
who needed slaves for their sugar and spice plantations on Mauritius and
Reunion. The African slave traders were paid in salt, beans, calico, etc. In
addition to the "earnings," it was also a way chiefs could get rid of enemies
and other unwanted people. With the opening of the New World, when America
proved not to have an available labor force, the Europeans found the importa-
tion of African slave labor for their mines and sugar and cotton plantations
there a natural extension of their previous miserable business. Trading for
beads, calico and salt, and later guns and gunpowder, the Arabs and Portuguese
usually sailed the Indian Ocean along the east coast of Africa, buying ivory,
gold, tortoiseshell and slaves. Men, women and children to be sold into
slavery were taken across Lake Malawi and marched to the coast to be picked up.
It was the missionaries, beginning with David Livingstone, who were the most
instrumental in the external abolition of slave-trading. In setting up the
British protectorate, the slave-trading African groups had to be persuaded by
reason, economics or political defeat to acquiesce. The Portuguese, who also
had a strong interest in the area, had to be forcibly persuaded as well.*
Slowly, slave-trading was abolished and the announced protectorate by the
British took on increasing meaning. Economic interests in the areas spurred
the British to work for peace and to develop what became the basis for the
present economic infrastructure.
By 1880 a number of European coffee planters were already settled in the
Shire Highlands in Southern Malawi. But Malawi was formally declared a British
colony in 1891. At first the British referred to the country as Nyasaland.
In the 1920s, however, pressure from the white settlers to unify colonial
economies in the region led to the formation of the Federation of Rhodesia and
Nyasaland. The name of the country was once again changed after independence
from Britain in 1964.
*Their contribution to slave-running to the New World is well known with a
large population of Portuguese descendants yet today in Providence, RI, a
major slave port during those years.
Colonization gave the British control over Malawi and authority to modify
indigenous institutions. By a gradual process of imposition, the foreign power
introduced a new system of government and economic relations among the people.
For example, British land tenure policies allowed settlers to obtain large
areas of fertile farm land for minimal prices. Similarly a taxation program
was introduced that forced the indigenous people to work for long periods on
settler farms. In addition, colonization or the promotion of colonial trade
led to the communication and marketing of Western technological infrastructure
in the southern region of the country. Thus, a concentration of cash crop
farming in this area was encouraged, while many of the Northern peoples
remained subsistence farmers. Seasonal migration became very popular during
the dry season months, as able-bodied men, women and children travelled south
to look for employment. Migration was less frequent, however, among women and
children. Between 1948 and 1962, 544,000 men, compared to 95,000 women, left
to work in South Africa (Boeder, 1973:37).
An early attempt to overcome colonialism by a Malawian, John Chilembwe,
ended with his assassination in 1915 while he was leading an uprising aga
the colonial government. After several isolated riots caused mainly by rural
disenchanted farmers against the colonialist had failed, Dr. Hastings Banda, a
US and British-trained Malawi physician, was invited home in 1958 to assume
leadership of another independence movement known as the Nyasaland African
Congress. He was imprisoned for his subversionist activities in 1960 but was
released in 1961 to represent the new Malawi Congress Party in a referendum.
Dr. Banda's party won the election by a wide margin, and on July 16, 1964,
Nyasaland attained independence from Britain and was renamed Malawi. Dr. Banda
has contained opposition to his government and, despite advancing age, is
still the vigorous, active life president of the country.
The impact of colonialism on the indigenous social, economic and political
arrangements of the people cannot be overstated. Furthermore, it had direct
implications for the role of women in the farm family network. Displacement
from original farm lands, for example, was one of the major problems in places
like the Shire Highlands where settler farming activities were expansive. The
indigenous farmers gradually became tenants rather than owners of the land.
However, factors other than colonialism have also shaped the current farm
family characteristics in the country. They are ecological, demographic and
ethnic in origin.
SECTION 2: ECOLOGICAL AND FARMING SYSTEMS
A. Ecological Zones
Malawi can be divided into about thirteen fairly distinct ecological zones.
However, the country is broadly described in two major terms as cool and wet
on the uplands (Scarps, Plains, Plateaus and hills) and hot and dry in the low-
lying rift valley areas. For convenience, the ecological zones of the country
are described within the boundaries of the three administrative regions of the
country, namely, the Southern, Central and the Northern Regions. Malawi is
said to have some of the most fertile soils in the region, especially recent
alluvial, lacustrine and aeolian soils in the plains, lakeshore areas and
valleys like the Shire River Valley (Hutcheson, 1983-1984:533).
The major lake, Lake Malawi, is the third largest natural lake in Africa,
covering two-thirds of the largest rift valley in the world, namely the African
Rift Valley. The lake occupies an area of about 11,430 sq. miles, which
stretches over all of the eastern half of the Northern Region and a significant
proportion of the eastern part of the Central Region. Lake Malawi is about
330 miles from north to south and about 18 to 45 miles wide in some places
(Young and Young, 1978:11). Every year the lake level drops during the dry
season and rises again during the rainy season (Agnew and Stubbes, 1972).
Several rivers flowing from the hills in the North and Central Regions of the
country drain into the lake. The largest river in the country, namely the
Shire River, takes its source from the lake. The Shire has three main
sections: the Upper Shire, the Central Shire and the Lower Shire. The river
flows for about 250 miles south into the Zambezi, through the southern portion
of the African Rift Valley.
The number of rainy days in a region has important implications for
agricultural activity. The Southern Region has the lowest number of rainy days
in the country, with a range of about 77 to 89 rainy days in the year, except
on the southern Shire Highlands where there can be as many as 130 rainy days
in the year. The Central Region has an impressive range of rainy days, from
about 83 to 103, in the very wet areas. The North is both very dry and very
moist in some parts, with a range of about 77 to 130 rainy days in the year.
Settlement patterns in the country closely reflect the geography and climate
of the different districts.
A.1. The Southern Region
The Southern Region is normally divided into four ecological or natural
regions. These are the Upper Shire and Bwanje Valleys, the Lower Shire Valley
and the Matandwe Foothills. The region is often divided into eight ecological
zones. These are the Upper and Lower Shire Valleys, the Kirk Range, the Lake
Chilwa and Namwera Plains and Hills, Mulanje, the Shire Highlands and the
Blantyre-Limbe district (Young and Young, op. cit.:70).
The altitude in the Southern Region varies sharply from the low-lying
valley areas, where it is about 630 feet, to over 4,900 feet on the highlands
and plains. Zomba Mountain reaches 6,800 feet while Mulanje Massif rises to
over 9,000 feet. It is generally quite hot in the South except in the very
high mountain areas. Annual mean temperatures range from a low of about 540F
in the winter months to a high of about 990F in the summer. Rainfall here is
relatively lower than it is in the other regions of the country. Total annual
rainfall in some places is as low as 32 inches, compared to 40 inches in the
highlands and plains. Long and severe dry seasons are common in this region,
especially in the Lower Shire Valley. The wettest part of the Southern Region
is around Blantyre in the Shire Highlands, the Zomba-Chikala pediment and the
northern part of the Kirk Range.
The soils of the Southern Region include fertile alluvial soils in parts
of the Lower Shire Valley and the Chilwa Plains. Other common soil types here
are ferruginous soils on the Kawinga Plain, the eastern Bwanje valley and the
Blantyre and Zomba areas. Ferrallitic soils can also be found on the Chilwa
and Salima Plains and the Chileka area, as well as the Mangoche forest reserves
and the Kirk range. There are also extensive marsh areas around Lake Chilwa
and along parts of the Shire River (Elephant Marsh and Ndindi Marsh). The
natural vegetation in several parts of the Southern Region has disappeared due
to extensive farming, but savanna grassland and scrub are commonly found in the
valleys and other low-lying areas, while termite-resistant woodlands are wide-
spread on the highlands and plains. Many of the tree species have the capacity
to fix nitrogen. Some of the common tree types in the south include Acacia
albida, Cordyla Africana and Brachystegia woodland.
A.2. The Central Region
Many of the geographical features of the Southern Region can also be found
in the Central Region of Malawi. There are about six dominant ecological types
in this region. They are: the Kasungu Plain, the Lilongwe Plain, the Dowa
Hills, the Nkhota Kota and Salima Lakeshore Plains and the Dedza Hills. Alti-
tudes rise to over 7,000 feet in some places, and mean annual temperatures
range from a low of about 45F to about 870F in October. Rainfall in the
Central Region is also low with a range of 33 to 38 inches annually. Fertile
ferruginous/red soils are common here, especially on the Lilongwe Plain; and
sandy ferrallitic/yellowish-red soils are to be found on the Kasungu and Salima
Plains. Much of the original vegetation in this region has also been destroyed
because of extensive tobacco cultivation and other farm practices, but woodland
and thicket still survive in some places, as well as sandy grassland and marsh
The wettest and the warmest part of the Central Region is around the Nkhota
Kota Lakeshore area, where annual rainfall ranges from about 48 to 63 inches
and mean maximum temperature may be as high as 900F (Malawi Statistical
Generally there are fewer hills here than in the other regions. The
Central Region is not only important for agricultural reasons, but also because
it accomodates the capital city of Malawi, Lilongwe. The Lilongwe District has
about one-third of the total population of the region.
A.3. The Northern Region
Northern Malawi has even sharper ecological contrasts than in the Central
and Southern Regions. The natural regions here also coincide with the
administrative districts. They are: the Chitipa Plains, the Misuku Hills,
the Karonga Lakeshore Plain, the Nyika and Viphya Plateaus, the Rhumphi-Mzimba
Plains and the Nkata Bay Lowlands. The Northern Region is generally cooler
than the other areas of the country, although some of the valley areas can be
very hot in the summer. The mean annual range of temperature is about 450F to
800F. The Nkata Bay Lowland is the wettest part of the region and is con-
sidered to be a good agricultural district. Mean annual rainfall here varies
from 42 to 63 inches, slightly higher than in other parts of the country.
Overall, altitudes are higher in the Northern Region than in the other regions,
the highest areas, like the Nyika Plateau, rise to over 8,000 feet. However
there are low altitude areas such as the Karonga Lakeshore Plain. There is a
delta on the plain extending into Lake Malawi, built by sediment from the North
Rukuru River. Parts of the delta are often flooded and have dambo clays with
Ferrallitic soils are widespread in most parts of the Northern Region,
especially on the plateaus. In addition ferruginous soils are common around
Misuku and Mzuzu. Except on the higher elevations where plant growth is slow
and poor, woodland is found in many areas. Grassland vegetation, however,
grows in the less fertile areas.
B. Demographic and Ethnic Features
Malawi is one of the relatively densely populated countries in south-
central Africa, with a population of 6,282,000 and an average density estimated
to be 66.6 per mile in 1982 (Hutcheson, op. cit.:533). The highest population
density here is in the South, at 97 people per square mile, compared to as
little as 26 persons per square mile in certain parts of the North (Young and
Young, op. cit.:51).
A combination of the historical and physical factors have led to a very
uneven population distribution in Malawi. Half of the population lives in the
more economically developed South, while only 12 percent of the total popula-
tion lives in the Northern Region. The largest settlement in the country is
the Blantyre-Limbe complex, with a population of 219,011, followed by the
capital city of Lilongwe with 98,718 people in 1977. Mzuzu, the capital of the
North, had only a population of 16,108 in 1977. The crude birth rate for the
country is 48.3 per 1,000, and the crude death rate is 25.0 per 1,000. Like
many African countries the population of Malawi is young, as 40 percent of the
population was under the age of 15 in 1977 (ibid.). The birth rate at that
time was 2.9 percent annually (ibid.). The youth of the population is
demonstrated by a visit to Malawi where one sees few women who are neither
pregnant, with a small child or both, those of child-bearing age visibly more
numerous tha the older women.
As is to be expected in each region the most heavily populated areas are
the more fertile plains and valley floors. The hills and scarps are the least
populated parts of the country, although the spreading mosaic of terraced crops
attest to the rapidly growing size of the population in the hills. Population
is commonly regarded as one of Malawi's important resources because of the
large numbers of migrant workers that leave to work in other neighboring
African countries, especially the South African mines. In recent years the
Malawian government has taken steps to reduce the number of migrant workers to
other countries (Hutcheson, op. cit.:533).
B.2. Ethnic Groups
There are about nine dominant ethnic groups in Malawi. In the South the
Nyanja, a Maravi people, are considered to be among the major groups. The Yao,
who came increasingly influenced by the Arabs and Islam, are also an important
ethnic group in the South. They are said to have fled into the country after
breaking away from the Zulus in South Africa. The Yaos arrived after 1850 and
settled between Mangochi and Zomba (Young and Young, op. cit.:52-53). The
Lomwes also migrated into the South, coming from Mozambique after 1900. They
occupy the Mulanje, Thyolo and Chiradzulu districts of the South (ibid.).
In the Central Region the dominant ethnic group is the Chewa, followed by
the Ngoni. The latter group came to Malawi around 1845 from South Africa and
settled near Dowa and Dedza. In the Northern Region the Timbuku are the major
ethnic group, but there are also several smaller groups there. They include
the Nkhonde on the Karonga Lakeshore Plain, the Tonga on the Nkhota Bay
Lakeshore, the Hewe in the Nyika Plateau and the Sukwa in the Misuku Hills
The closely related Nyanja and Chewa people together form about half of the
population of the country (ibid.). Malawi also has a White settler population
that dominates plantation agriculture in the Central Region. In 1977 there
were about 6,000 Europeans in Malawi. There were also 5,682 Asians mostly
engaged in store-keeping and other trading activities. There is yet no indi-
cation of any changes in the foreign population in the country. All of the
major Malawi languages in the country are said to belong to the Bantu language
group. Chichewa and English are the official languages, although English is
spoken by less than 20 percent of the population. Chichewa is, however, spoken
by more than 50 percent of the people (Paxton, 1982-83:362). Other important
languages here are Chilomwe (15 percent of the people), Chiyao (15 percent of
the people) and Chitumbuka (10 percent of the people) (ibid.).
C. Social Organization and Agro-Ecological Adaptation Among the Tumbuka, Chewa
and Nyanja of Malawi
Malawi's farming population has made various adjustments to accommodate the
geographical peculiarities of each region in the country. However some of the
patterns of adaptation are the direct response to changes that have taken place
in Malawian society, associated with land tenure and labor distribution in the
country. Many of these changes can be linked to colonial policy of the British
in Malawi, but some can be attributed to agricultural and labor policies of the
C.I. The Northern Region: The Tumbuka-Henga
In the Chitipa District of the North, maize, millet, groundnuts, beans* and
peas are grown extensively. This is an area of low fertility and low rainfall.
On the wetter Misuku Hills, coffee is grown on terraces. The Rumphi-Mzimba
District area is also an important food cultivation area in this region, even
though it is considered a drought area. The crops grown here are similar to
those in the Chitipa District. In addition fire-cured tobacco, oriental
tobacco and cattle-raising are given much attention in the area. In the very
wet Nkhata Bay area cassava, maize, tea and rice are the main crops cultivated.
The Northern Region is the home of seven major Tumbuka sub-ethnic groups,
namely the Henga whom Gregson has discussed in some detail (1978), the Kamanga
(Cullen, 1932), the Hewe, the Phoka, the Yombe, the Senga and the Tumbuka
proper (Gregson, 1978:37-45). The Hengas are a significant example of the
*Beans, not considered a crop indigenous to Africa, are reported to have been
introduced into Africa by the Portuguese, who used this commodity as a unit
various ways in which political, economic and geographical factors have shaped
the organization and practice of the rural farm family economy in Northern
The Hengas are a significant Tumbuka group that inhabits the Rumphi, Mzimba
and Karonga Districts, especially in the Henga Valley. They began resettling
the valley in the 1890s following British subjugation of the slave-raiding
African people, who had dispersed the Hengas through invasions ibidd.: 43).
The Ngonis, a feared fighting and plundering group in those days who
captured young men to swell their armies, are said to have significantly
modified Tumbuka culture. For example, the Tumbuka adopted Ngoni fighting
skills and weaponry, blacksmithing and cattle-raising practices. They even
modified their language (chitumbuka), religious beliefs and rituals on the
basis of Ngoni practices. In the process Tumbukas acquired elements of patri-
lineality in their political organization (Nelson, 1975:80). These matrilineal
people were originally part of a loosely structured trading state, Nkamanga,
ruled by Swahili-speaking peoples under the Chikuramayembe Dynasty (ibid.:41).
This state was insecure politically and was unable to defend itself against
raiding Ngonis in the 1850s. Hengas that were captured were taken into the
Mzimba Plateau, while those that escaped hid in hill areas or fled as far west
as Zambia (ibid.:42). The Henga Valley thus suffered a severe depopulation
during this period.
The main agricultural focus of the Hengas at this time was on the cultiva-
tion of maize, millet and pumpkins, as well as a variety of beans and peas.
Groundnuts were additionally grown in some places. Millet and groundnuts were
usually planted in the first year on a garden plot of about two acres and
alternated with the other crops in succeeding years (ibid.:45). Planting
methods in Henga agriculture have changed from seed broadcasting in the early
part of this century, to planting in holes. This was gradually abandoned in
favor of planting in mounds (tumbira), made up of heaps of earth about two feet
in diameter and one foot apart. Livingstone suggests that this system was used
in ancient Phoka agriculture (Livingstone, 1921:369; Gregson, op. cit.:46).
Later some farmers in this area adopted a contour ridge method of field
preparation, largely as a response to pressure from the colonial government in
the 1940s. Later in the 1950s farmers were also forced to dig bunds (ditches
about one foot deep and three feet wide) to protect farms from soil erosion
Gregson suggests that the acceptance of agricultural-innovation among the
Henga was directly related to the inflow and outflow of labor, especially able-
bodied men, at various phases in the twentieth century (ibid.:36). This
affected both technological practices, as well as the selection of some crops
based on their labor requirements.
As labor migration among men increased, beer-compensated cooperative labor
groups became dominated by women. They abandoned crops with high labor inputs
like finger millet in favor of less demanding crops like bananas, cassava and
mangoes that require minimal land clearing and have a high caloric return for
caloric effort (ibid.:44). Seed broadcasting was one of the popular labor-
saving techniques adopted by the women. Changes in economic behavior held
implications for social and other traditional customs. For example, the
reduction in millet cultivation capacity changed the traditional composition
of local beer (chindongawa), which traditionally is made up of maize flour,
pafya (a wild root) and millet flour. The women substituted sweet potato flour
instead of millet flour. Similarly, rituals that were formerly performed in
celebration of the early millet crop in February or March, signifying the end
of famine, were no longer appropriate with the changes in crops produced in the
Gregson's thesis about the relationship between labor and ecological
adaptation is best supported by the return to some of the abandoned agri-
cultural practices. When male labor returned to the Henga Valley in the late
1950s, he noted a "dramatic increase in rural manpower from decreased rate of
labor migration" (ibid.:48). At this point the men once again adopted the
slash-and-burn land clearing method and the cultivation of finger millet. This
crop once again replaced sweet potato as one of the key ingredients in the
preparation of local beer (ibid.).
The provision of the right tasting local beer to work groups (kilimiro) is
important when one realizes the vital nature of work assistance from one's kin
and friendly neighbors. Because of the nature of the rains, the speed of
planting has direct impact on crop output.
The important thing to note in the case of the Henga is the difficulty that
arises when an attempt is made to separate economic from non-economic deter-
minants of agricultural practices. Part of the reason why there was opposition
to the bunding system introduced by the colonial government was because it
disrupted the general pattern of dry season activity. During this period
farmers and their families engage in crafts for sale and domestic use,
marriages are contracted, people undertake long trips and others seek wage
employment to supplement their incomes (ibid.:47).
C.2. The Central Region: The Chewas
The Central Region of Malawi on the whole is the most prosperous
agricultural area in the country because of its extensive flat plains and
adequate rainfall. The major cash crop in the country, tobacco, is grown
extensively in the Kasungu and Lilongwe Plains on large estates owned by white
settler farmers. In Dowa and Lilongwe, several food crops, including maize,
groundnuts and vegetables, are also cultivated extensively as well as cattle
rearing. The dambos provide pasture for the cattle. In the Nkhota Kota area
sorghum, cassava, rice and cotton additionally are planted. There is an
agricultural development project here providing extension to cotton farmers.
In the cool Dedza Hills, Irish potatoes and beans are additional crops.
Rotation of maize and other crops is commonly practiced in this region on
relatively small farms. The higher density of population in the Central Region
is likely the major factor in the type of cropping method practiced here and
the size of small-scale farms (Young and Young, op. cit.).
The Chewas, who are the most populous ethnic group in Malawi today, are
also a matrilineal people like the Hengas further north. In the past the Chewa
kingdom was a highly centralized political structure with an extensive bureau-
cratic organization made up of two to four levels of offices. The structure
was led by a king at the top, followed by chiefs who were his subjects and
headmen who were subordinate to the king directly or through their chiefs
(Butler, 1976:70; Langworthy, 1972:106).
However by the end of the nineteenth century the Chewa kingdom had disinte-
grated under the attacks of Ngoni invaders from about 1840 (Butler, op. cit.).
As in most matrilineages, the basic unit of social organization among the
Chewas is the matriclan or the mbumba, which refers to all the grandaunts,
aunts, sisters and nieces who are dependent on a man as their "responsible
relative" (ibid.). A matriclan is led by a headman who is the eldest sister's
son. This is a powerful political and economic position that, in the past,
entitled a man to cattle, land, slaves and judiciary duties (ibid.:72). Now
the position of the headman among the Chewas potentially offers close contacts
with government officials. In a study of the Chewas, Butler found five
matriclans that were led by female headmen (ibid.).
In the Central Region also, labor migration patterns appear to be closely
related to some of the major changes that have taken place in the agricultural
practices of the Chewas. It has already been mentioned that shifting cultiva-
tion has disappeared in most places partly because of the high incidence of
migration among males in this region. Butler observed that "the men are
frequently absent, the women often work alone, or are aided by their children"
(ibid.:74). Chewa women are entitled to farm land rights, which are passed on
to them from their mother's lineage and which they can pass on to their
daughters. It is not surprising, therefore, that these women are said to
identify very closely with their farms (ibid.). Crafts industries and other
primary processing activity, such as the preparation of a hard liquor known as
kachasu (this is an illegal beverage in Malawi), are carried out by the women
to supplement their incomes. Men also take part in the cottage industries,
producing mats, iron tools and household utensils.
C.3. The Southern Region: The Nyanjas
As in the North, the sharply contrasting geographical features of Southern
Malawi have given rise to a wide variety of agricultural activities. In the
hot climate of the Upper Shire and Bwanje Valley, maize and sorghum are the
main food crops cultivated. However, cotton and sunflower are grown as cash
crops. In addition, this is a major fishing area, especially along the south-
eastern shore of Lake Malawi. The fish is dried or smoked and some is frozen.
In the Lower Shire Valley it is too dry for maize, but sorghum grows well here.
In addition, the area can account for about three-quarters of all the cotton
grown in Malawi, in the Chikwawa area. Sugar cane also grows well at Nchalo,
with the help of irrigation. The Lower Shire Development Project is the
largest agricultural project in the Southern Region, and it is focused on
providing extension services for small-scale cotton growers in the region. The
Kirk Range is cool enough for the cultivation of Irish potatoes, and small
quantities of wheat are also cultivated. Fishing is important along the shores
of Lake Chilwa (Phipps, 1973:37-48) but cotton is also widely cultivated in
this area. Interestingly, the big-time fishermen of Lake Chilwa are also some
of the most successful small-scale food producers in the area. Like others in
the farming community they count their wealth in cattle. Phipps describes the
aspiration of every fisherman as the desire to own a large head of cattle.
Livestock is regarded as a form of bank or security (Phipps, 1973:37-48). The
occasional drying up of Lake Chilwa makes these other economic interests very
important for the fishermen. Tea and tobacco are grown in Namwere Plains and
Hills and Mulanje, respectively.
The Nyanjas, as the dominant ethnic group of the South, are concentrated
in the Upper Shire Valley and in the Chilwa Basin. Here also the dominant
group is matrilineal, and it is organized into small kinship-based political
units that are autonomous. However, they are loosely bound together by a
shared culture. Nyanja agricultural activity is generally organized around
the basic household unit (Vaughan, 1982:353).
Fertile alluvial soils along the Upper Shire Valley have led to a high
density of population in the valley. In addition there are good dambos here
for cattle grazing. The area still has some problems that have caused
difficulties for farmers. The Upper Shire Valley lies in a rainfall shadow,
consequently it has low rainfall. In addition this is an area of periodic
flooding and drought conditions. Agricultural practices by small-scale famers
are therefore primarily intended to minimize the impact of these constraints
(ibid.). Finger millet and sorghum are widely grown because of their drought
resistant qualities and low moisture requirements (ibid.). Livingstone (1865)
noted a wide variety of crops that were grown here in the mid-nineteenth
century, namely millet, groundnuts, yams, rice, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and
In the past the Nyanjas cultivated maize all year round (ibid.). In the
regular planting season the crop was grown in holes in river-sand mounds heaped
on water-logged dambos. In the dry season the Nyanjas planted a second crop
of maize "in a sandy depression through which a perennial stream flowed, and
sowing the maize in the bottom of these holes." (Vaughan, op. cit.:354). In
addition to food production, cotton was also grown for the indigenous textile
industry. Fishing was also important to the Nyanjas (ibid.).
There are many similarities between the Highlands Nyanja and those of the
Upper Shire Valley. However, their different environments have led to
different adaptive responses. Among the Highlanders, for example, bush-
fallowing rather than crop rotation is common. Rainfall on the highlands is
higher and more reliable, and the vegetation is woodland rather than grass.
The two groups of Nyanjas have a well-organized system of commercial and gift
exchange between them, which must be seen as part of the adaptive mechanism of
the two groups. The extent of gift exchange is said to be declining in
significance in favor of commercial exchanges. The items most frequently
exchanged among clan members include crafts products and foodstuffs. In the
past these incoming resources were so important to the family budget that they
were actually calculated into the domestic economy (Vaughan, op. cit.:355).
The primary Nyanja household seem to have extensive control over family
resources, without any regular tribute payments to chiefs. Vaughan suggests
that the extensive decentralization in the control of production and industrial
output may be due to the fact that resources such as patches of fertile land
and iron ore deposits are wide-spread in the two areas. In contrast, the
Chilwa fishing industry in the same area is largely controlled by chiefs.
The impact of colonialism on the food-production systems of small-scale
farmers in Malawi is perhaps best illustrated by the massive land alienation
that White settler farmers have caused indigenous farmers in the Southern
Region. There were disruptions of labor supply and food production, due to the
new demands that were made for income through the use of male labor. Labor
migration became necessary as men sought ways of making money to pay the taxes
(hut tax). In addition, manufactured European goods in shops acted as an
incentive for wage-labor. The situation was less dramatic in the Shire Valley.
Despite land appropriation by the settlers, there was still more land to be
cultivated by the Nyanjas. Labor investment for food production remained
Food security continues to be fundamental to Nyanja economic activity. It
is not surprising, therefore, that cotton has failed to attract these farmers.
Groundnut production as a cash crop, on the other hand, was favorably received
by the people. It has been suggested that this may be related to the edible
quality of groundnut. According to Vaughan the cultivation of cotton inter-
feres with the food crop cycle. Cotton is planted in November or December,
coinciding with the planting period of the major food crops, namely maize,
millet and sorghum.
D. Gender Related Farming Issues
Although much literature on women's position and roles in Malawian society
is not readily available, limited documentation exists that helps to give some
indication of the general trends. Two interesting factors emerge from the
available literature. First, many of the major ethnic groups in the country
are organized along the lines of matrilineage, suggesting certain privileges
for women which are supposedly not available to women in patrilineal groups.
Second, the literature suggests that Malawian rural women have historically
been very flexible in the roles they perform. On numerous occasions they have
assumed what are normally considered to be male roles in order to survive.
This observation is important because it directs attention to the dynamic
rather than the static roles of women in this society.
Interestingly, women seem to have greater opportunities to diversify their
roles and achieve mobility in the area of economic activity than they do in the
political sphere. Thus while the economic roles of men and women are likely
to overlap, even publicly, political roles always seem to be very clearly
defined and separated, especially in public. In several communities women are
barred from membership in male organizations, such as secret societies, that
invariably enhance one's social status and creates access to power-positions
in the community. Gender roles in selected ethnic groups in the North, South
and Central Regions of Malawi are reviewed here to illustrate the role of women
in the farm family economic institution. Particular attention is paid to the
position of women through work, marriage and kinship.
The division of labor in indigenous Malawian society is typical of what is
reported from other Black African, non-moslem societies. Travers describes
gender roles in the country as follows: "Women draw water, gather firewood and
do everything connected with food preparation. . Both men and women weed
and harvest the fields, men alone clear land, erect and build granaries, and
build kraals. The cultivation of cash crops is men's work as well." (Boeder,
D.1. Women in the North: The Tumbuka-Hengas
In the Northern Region, Tumbuka women's lives are greatly tied to their
participation in food production, harvesting, storage, preparation and market-
ing. In visits to the field in Malawi, CRSP researchers reported that the
women were actively involved in digging the fields with small hoes, planting
maize and beans, harvesting and threshing produce, as well as in the prepara-
tion of the crop for consumption (CRSP, March 1982). Plowing is an exclusive
male activity when there are male members of the family available. In their
absence women do their own plowing, unless they can afford to employ somebody
to help. The men also participate in weeding and harvesting of crops (ibid.).
Evidently women in this environment have a great many responsibilities they
are expected to fulfill. In a study of Tumbuka men and women, over an average
thirty-minute period, the ratio of female activities performed to male
activities was 6:1 (Barnes-McConnell and Goduka, u.n.:10). An analysis of the
observed behavior in that study determined that among 10-19 year olds males
were engaged in social and personal activities 65 percent of the time, compared
to 45 percent for the females. The males were engaged in domestic activity 13
percent of the time, compared to 31 percent of the time for females. Despite
the large difference in the male/female participation in domestic work,
females' involvement in agricultural activity was comparable to that of males
(9 percent and 11 percent, respectively). In conclusion, the authors noted
that in this Tumbuka community men generally focus on single tasks that are
often individually time-consuming and frequently lead to financial rewards.
On the other hand, women frequently engage in multiple activities concurrently
that are, for the most part, each individually of short duration and may not
involve any direct financial rewards (ibid.).
Gregson (op. cit.) brings out the versatility of Tumbuka women in his
references to the ability of Henga women to make adjustments to the incidence
of male labor migration to the South. For example, these women assumed control
of work groups when there was a shortage of male labor in the community. In
addition, they modified the system of land preparation, adopting the more
efficient system of crop-rotation. Also they substituted crops which were
described as more calorie efficient.
Very little literature is available to the writer on women's political
positions and influence in the Northern Region of Malawi. However, there are
interesting findings based on some preliminary results of an AID-funded
Resources and Extension Survey, in which 15 percent of the heads of households
were found to be women (Chitipa and Karonga). Spring reported that almost all
the male and female heads of households owned hoes at the time of her study.
However only 12.percent of female heads owned plows, compared to 21 percent of
male heads. Other resources like ox carts were scarce in the community, but
they were usually owned by men when present. Also, on extension to the
farmers, she found that men received more advice on the same topics and more
advice on more topics than did female heads (Spring, 1981:5). Other reports
on agricultural education reiterate that, historically, agricultural instruc-
tion has been aimed at men and not women, despite the fact that missions and
government consistently reported that food production was in female hands
D.2. Women in the Central Region: Chewa Women
In the Central Region the daily life of a Chewa woman "revolves around
annual agricultural cycles and the mutual obligations and responsibilities to
domestic members." (Butler, 1976:102). The women here have similar duties and
expectations as can be found in most parts of Malawi rural society. Butler
groups these into: agricultural activities, domestic activities and other
activities which include participation in social functions, cottage industry
activity and working with labor work groups (ibid.:105). The Chewa women have
been selected for special attention in this section because the Chewas are the
largest ethnic group in the Central Region. It is important to note, however,
that there are other important groups here with a different system of kinship
patrilineall) and, therefore, some differences exist between the two systems
of division of labor.
Chewa women usually work in small groups, traditionally made up of women
only, though this might embrace different generations. In groups the women
hoe, plant, weed, harvest, husk maize, sort groundnuts and beans, fetch water
and carry firewood, go to the maize mill, cook and make beer. However, small
jobs are done alone (ibid.). The socialization of girls into these roles and
the skills they require start at an early age, as they are encouraged to
participate in these duties with their sisters, mothers, aunts and grandmothers
(ibid.). In the performance of agricultural tasks, there is a close relation-
ship between the men and the women, with men performing the heavy duty jobs
like tree felling. Even in the construction of garden fences, women carry the
building materials while men do the actual building (ibid.). Ironically
tobacco farming is regarded as men's work but, among the Chewas, women work in
the tobacco nurseries transplanting, weeding and harvesting. In addition they
usually prepare fire for smoking tobacco but are, however, banned from the
curing and sorting process. Other jobs that are considered men's jobs include
roofing, carpentry, metal work, basket-weaving and mat weaving. Women can also
make extra income from growing groundnuts for the market and making beer or
liquor for sale (ibid.).
Within the work group women owe obligations to each other. The extent of
service a woman receives from other women in the group is usually determined
by her age and position in the kin group. For example, a daughter (in-law) is
expected to help her mother (in-law) with her work, which would include
cooking, pounding, and garden maintenance. Among women, the garden plots are
usually handed down from mother to daughter, especially if the daughter lives
among her matrilineage. In situations where a daughter-in-law inherits a
garden from her mother-in-law, she can still transfer it to her daughter.
Generally Chewa women appear to enjoy some of the privileges of being econom-
ically independent of their husband, as well as having control over marital
residency and husband's access to farm land. Chewa kinship is organized on the
basis of the matrilineage and requires uxorilocal residence of the new couple.
In some instances after a few years of marriage and service to his in-laws
(some in-laws request labor on farms), a husband may request to be allowed to
take his family to his own village (virilocal residence). Chewa husbands are
traditionally viewed as strangers to the village.
Chewa marriages do not involve the payment of bridewealth as is customary
among the Ngonis and the Tumbuka. For Chewa women separation and divorce are
comparatively easier to obtain. The consanguineal family is primarily respon-
sible for the welfare of children, and a husband's wealth is expected to be
inherited by his sister's son. In many polygamous marriage situations wives
live in their own villages. Chewa female members of the royal families are
also eligible for headmanship of the village.
Chewa husbands have attempted to counteract the independence and power of
their wives by a variety of means. One of the most prestigious is the Nyau
Secret Society, to which only males could belong until recently. Now selected
women like female headmen are allowed to be members of the society (Phiri,
1983:257-274). The society has a code of secrecy and also uses a secret
language. The Nyau Societies give men an opportunity to hold office in the
village and to claim special powers in relation to the ancestors. They perform
ritual dances at marriages, funerals and puberty initiation rites.
Generally Chewa women are regarded as relatively powerful. In a study of
the basis of influence among these women, Butler noted that women with a wide
domestic influence sphere (DIS) are regarded as powerful. She identified the
source of DIS as a function of a woman's access to two types of resources,
namely (1) resources that reward, such as: economic autonomy, personal compe-
tency, reproductive competency, socialibility; and (2) resources that legiti-
mize, such as: the seniority of age, married status, mothering and sisterly
roles, gift-giving, supernatural powers, affiliation with the Malawian Congress
Party (MCP) (Butler, 1976:179-260). Further, matrilineage is said by some to
prepare women better for the absence of their menfolk (ibid.).
D.3. Women in the Southern Region: Nyanja Women
Conditions for Nyanja women in Southern Malawi may be more difficult
compared to the environment of their counterparts in other parts of the
country. Both the Upper Shire Valley and the Shire Highlands, which are the
traditional homes of the Nyanjas, are susceptible to droughts. In addition,
extensive appropriation of land by European farmers has taken fertile lands
away from the small-scale farming population (Vaughan, 1982:351-364). In the
past, the estate owners were allowed to extract labor-rent from the people in
a form of quasi-feudal arrangement known as thangata. Farmers who still
resided on alienated land would devote one to three months working the fields
of his landlord. On some estates both men and- women were required to provide
thangata for long periods of time, under very harsh conditions. Naturally this
had grave consequences during the peak agricultural season. In addition, a
number of the men left home for wage-labor in the towns and cities. These
conditions were especially true for the Nyanjas of the Shire Highlands (ibid.).
Consequently, in the Shire Highlands "a disproportionate amount of labor
. . fell on female shoulders." In addition, small-holders were very dis-
satisfied with thangata and staged several riots to eliminate this practice.
Thangata was abolished in the early 1960s. Currently the form of tenancy that
is in use is known as the "visiting-tenant" system, where small-scale farmers
cultivate both cash crops and food crops. The cash crop is sold to the estate
owner, at a buyer's price (Kydd and Christiansen, 1982:358). This system has
also had repercussions on peasant agriculture. By the 1970s a growing number
of male labor was working full-time on estates, despite evidence of decreasing
real wages. It is safe to speculate that perhaps Nyanjas were forced into such
decisions because of serious declines in family food production (ibid.).
By all indication Nyanja women have had to struggle along with their
husbands engaged in off-farm employment or on their own to maintain adequate
levels of food to last through the dry season. The full impact of labor
migration and unfavorable land tenure conditions since the colonial period may
have had a more drastic effect on the position of women here than in other
parts of the country.
Further south of Nyanja country there are organized work groups that help
to provide labor during the early, labor-intensive period of planting. One of
the most popular of these work groups is the nomi society, very common among
the Mang'anjas. The nomi society provides labor for remuneration. The common
type of nomi organization is mixed; however, there are all-female as well as
all-male nomi societies in these places (Schoffeleers, 1973:11-26). In the
past, membership in a nomi society was regarded as a socialization process for
adulthood for both boys and girls.
In summary, it is clear that, in both patrilineal and matrilineal kinship
groups in Malawi, women play a vital role in food production. Increasingly
they are establishing their own cash crop plots in contravention of the
ex-colonial concept that cash crop farming is a man's domain. In terms of work
and other activity, gender differences are sharpest in the home where women's
duties are extensive and are usually distinct from men's roles. On the farms,
however, men and women share tasks except when the men migrate in search of
wage-labor. Socially also there are distinct men's duties and women's duties.
However, as previously indicated, in rigid matrilineal kinship groups there are
some opportunities for women to attain heights, such as the headman of a
village, which are traditionally reserved for men.
In all the cases we have observed, including those that have not been
discussed in detail, such as women in the Ngoni, Yao, Lomwe and Mang'anja
societies, women's responsibilities have increased dramatically, both inside
and outside the home, on the family farms. Women in Malawi are seeking greater
economic well-being as their men withdraw their labor from the farms into wage
sectors of the urban centers, and in other African countries. Efforts have
been made to determine the level at which male migration is harmful to the
social, economic and political well-being of a society. Barber has suggested
that a rural economy will survive if at least 50 percent of the men stay behind
(Boeder, 1973:40). The missionaries were more concerned about the lack of
emotional support from absentee husbands, as well as the morality of the family
as a whole (ibid.). External observers maintain a very negative attitude
toward male labor migration, but Boeder found that the folklore of rural women
indicate a more practical approach to the issue. On the one hand, the women
encourage male migration.because of the potential financial rewards, but they
resent it when the men stay away indefinitely. They generally put a lot of
pressure on men to make adequate provisions for their families before embarking
on long trips (ibid.). The institution of work groups such as the beer-
compensated groups of the Tumbuka, the women's work groups of the Chewas, and
the remunerated nomi societies commonly found in the South (Schoffeleers, op.
cit.) must be seen as a key factor in the adjustments of rural family farms to
the shortage of male labor within individual families.
Some people have advanced a theory that male migration is especially high
in the Southern Region because of the lack of security that comes with uxori-
local land ownership by men. In the heavily populated areas in the Mlanje and
Cholo areas, a man can only obtain land by marrying in the district where he
desires to have land (Panchai, 1973:3). The problem of lack of security or
individual land title under customary law is not unique to matrilineal society.
Customary law or land tenure traditionally does not permit the user to
establish ownership over the land. Many indigenous societies have made
adjustments to accommodate or overcome the negative effects of customary land
tenure, but there is still room for improvement. More serious problems in land
tenure, as it relates to the small-scale farmer, are directly related to
colonial and post-colonial land policies, the impact of the transfer of fertile
lands from these farmers to predominantly European estate farms cannot be
Finally, although women themselves do not seem to exercise political power
outside of the household or clan, they have become very important channels
through whom political, economic and other kinds of negotiations can be
initiated. This is made possible by the contract of marriages between two
strategic parties. In the same way women represent an avenue for the expansion
of family wealth, through bridalwealth, and labor service of husbands on their
The heavy involvement of women in food production throughout Malawi, in
both matrilineal and patrilineal systems, suggests the importance of attending
to the issues which will support their ability to contribute to this facet of
the nation's resources. Women's understanding of agricultural constraints and
access to the resources addressing those constraints is critical.
E. Agricultural Practices and Production
The most important sector of the Malawian economy is agriculture. At least
90 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture which contributes at
least 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in an average year (1981).
Similarly agricultural production contributes 90 percent of all export earnings
(Chimphamba, 1984). Small-holders dominate the agricultural sector (78 per-
cent), although plantation agriculture accounts for more than half of the
overall agricultural export earnings (Carroll, 1983-1984:537). Many of the
cash crops grown in the country--such as tea, tobacco, groundnuts, cotton,
sunflower seeds and tung trees--are now cultivated on plantations, although
the smallholders make a considerable contribution to the total production of
some of the commodities.
Most subsistence farmers sell their surplus at local markets or to the
government to purchase other goods and services and to pay their taxes. The
major crops grown by small-scale farmers are maize, cassava, millet, sorghum,
groundnuts, beans, rice, sweet potato, fruits and vegetables, coffee, and some
cotton. In addition, several farmers maintain small herds of livestock for
food or/and energy, as well as for economic reasons ibidd).
Maize is the most important staple food in Malawi and, fortunately, the
country is described as one of the few on the African continent that is self-
sufficient in maize production. Per capital consumption is estimated at 530
pounds per annum. Surplus maize is often sold to neighboring countries (Young
and Young, 1973) from stocks which are maintained by the government in huge
modern silos which can be seen for miles outside the capital city. Buyers from
these countries can also be found purchasing quantities in local markets.
Generally maize is grown once in the year, planted just before the rains in
November and harvested in April. The crop is sometimes grown naturally with
little fertilizer, although recent efforts by the extension service have
increased the use of nitrogen and phosphorous when this fertilizer is avail-
able. The problem for Malawian maize farmers is that the low-yielding tradi-
tional varieties of maize do not respond as well to fertilizer applications as
do the hybrid seeds. But the traditional maize varieties are more resistant
to blight and rot and, in addition, they are more suited to the traditional
methods of storage and style of food preparation (nzima or maize porridge) than
are the hybrid varieties of maize (Leibenow, 1982:4). Usually the inner part
of the grain is pounded into a white flour (ufa) and the outer part is used to
make a bran (medea) for animal feed. Increasingly people are taking their
maize to a maize mill that grinds the whole kernel into a greyish flour
(mgaiwa). Much of the surplus maize from the rural areas is sold in the big
cities of the South like Blantyre-Limbe, Zomba and Lilongwe (Young and Young,
Next to maize, millet or sorghum is popularly grown in most of the hot and
low rainfall areas of Malawi because of its drought-resistant qualities.
Finger millet is grown widely in the hot dry valleys of the North while Bulrush
millet is cultivated in the hot climate of the Lower Shire Valley (Young and
Young, op. cit.:28). Rice development schemes are spreading all over Malawi
in the very wet areas, especially on the dambo clays of Karonga Lakeshore
Plain, Nkhota Kota and Salima, as well as Lake Chilwa. Dryland rice is also
seen in many areas.
Root crops like cassava, sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes are additional
popular crops. Irish potatoes are grown especially at the higher altitudes of
the Kirk Range and the Dedza District. Groundnuts are widely grown both as a
food crop and a cash crop. Other legumes like beans and peas are the main
source of protein for many farm families in the country. They are often grown
in mixed cropping with maize. Vegetables and fruits such as bananas, pawpaws,
mangoes, oranges, lemons and pineapples grow wild or on farms throughout the
Malawi has a diversified export crop economy, exporting significant
quantities of tobacco, tea (Pachai, 1973:1-14), coffee, cotton and sugar.
Tobacco is cultivated on a large scale in the Lilongwe Plain, Kasungu and south
of Zomba. The crop is sold to both foreign and local buyers at auction sales
in Blantyre-Limbe. Tea and coffee are grown on terraces on hill slopes,
frequently by smallholders who are regulated by the Coffee or Tea Smallholder
Authorities. Tea grows mostly in the Mulanje and Thyolo Districts. Coffee,
on the other hand, is grown in the North around Rumphi and in the Misuku Hills.
These areas are suitable because of the high rainfall and cool temperatures.
Cotton and sunflower, which are both heat and drought tolerant, are grown
in the rift valley floor along the Lower Shire River and on the lakeshore
plain. Sugar cane, coffee and tung are cultivated in varying quantities for
export and local consumption. Sugar cane was originally produced just for
domestic use, but it has recently become an important cash crop. Now it is
cultivated on a large scale on irrigated estates in the Chikwawa Districts.
The tung tree grows in many parts of the North, on the lower slopes of the
Viphya Plateau and around Zomba. Oil is extracted from tung nuts to make paint
(ibid.). Sunflower is also cultivated in the Upper Shire Valley and processed
into edible oil. Plantation rubber is also cultivated in Malawi.
Livestock raising is common, especially in the Central Region and a little
bit in the North. Goats, sheep, pigs and chickens are kept on many farms to
provide meat and also to supplement incomes. Dambos or clay soils in the
valleys and steep slopes which are unsuitable for cultivation are commonly used
for pasture. In addition, waste products from crops such as sweet potato,
maize and beans are fed to the livestock. Cattle serve other purposes apart
from dietary ones. They are used to plow and to draw carts in the rural areas.
In addition cattle manure is an important fertilizer.
SECTION 3: REPORT ON BEAN PRODUCTION AND UTILIZATION RESEARCH IN MALAWI*
The common beans, Phaseolus vulgaris L. (Savi), also known by various names
as dry beans, kidney beans, ration beans, sugar beans, french beans, garden
beans, or simple nyemba or nchunga in Malawi, are one of the most important
grain legumes in the country. As food, beans provide a high percentage of
protein (20-25 percent) compared with maize, cassava and rice. Green pods and
green shelled seeds are also good sources of vitamins A and C. Beans are also
good sources of energy providing comparable calories as maize flour (ufa),
milled rice or cassava flour (Platt, 1962). Beans provide about two and five
times more energy than bread and potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), respectively.
In most areas of eastern Africa, beans are the primary food legume.
Despite their importance, relatively little research has been conducted on
improving their productivity under field conditions. Research programs in the
East African countries are now turning greater attention to this need, however.
Yields in Malawi average only 533 kg/ha but the potential is thought to be much
greater. There are many constraints to both production and utilization, which
need further research.
The beans commonly eaten in Malawi are dry beans. The dominant ones are
red, white, brown, green and various patterns and are large seeded (40-50g/100
seeds). Kidney shaped seeds, which after cooking look like chunks of meat, are
preferred. There are several ways of preparing bean dishes in Malawi. The
*Major portions of this section excerpted from: 0. T. Edje, Workshop to
Develop Workplan for Bean Production in Eastern Africa: Country Presentation
for Malawi, Paper presented at a Workshop on Workplan for Bean Production in
Eastern Africa, Cali, Colombia, 16-22 November 1983.
most common one in boarding schools, colleges, farming estates and in most
institutions where a large number of people are fed communally is to soak the
seeds in water for a few hours and discard the water afterwards. The purpose
of soaking is to accelerate cooking and also to reduce flatulence (generation
of gas in the digestive system). Salt, cooking oil, tomato and other ingre-
dients may be added according to taste and cooked as a mixture. The cooked
beans (ndiwo) are served with rice or nsima. The seedcoat is sometimes removed
after soaking, and the beans are cooked until soft. The beans may be mashed
with a special ladle to form chipere. Beans may also be boiled with maize,
after the pericarp has been removed, to produce a popular food called ngata.
Beans are sometimes cooked with banana or plantain to produce a dish known as
In areas where bean production is low, or at a time of the year when bean
supply is low, beans, cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) and pigeon peas (Cajanus
cajan) can be cooked together either for the bean flavor and/or to stretch the
bean supply. Other bean dishes are: baked brown beans, bean fritters, fried
bean balls or mock meat loaf. Bean flour can be mixed with maize flour and
pulverized groundnuts to produce Likuna phala which is used for weaning
children and for children up to about five years old. The green immature pods,
zitheba, are sometimes eaten as relish. Beans may also be cooked in the pod
and eaten as such, mkata.
Young and tender leaves are sometimes boiled and cooked with groundnut
flour to produce khwanya. Surplus leaves are dried and stored for future use
as mfutso. Bittenbender, et al., report that in Malawi bean leaves are
frequently harvested during the pod-filling stage. Fresh leaves are sundried
on mats and stored in sacks. They also indicate that young leaves are
preferred but report that older leaves are sometimes eaten, usually cooked
with sodium carbonate or potash to soften them. The Chewa and other ethnic
groups eat the leaves with peanut paste or stew. These researchers reported
that leaves are available in markets either fresh or dried. CRSP researchers
found similar conditions with dried leaves stored wrapped in leaves of a
special tree to resemble a large baseball without a cover. The researchers
also observed leaves available in local markets sold in baskets by women as
bulk spinach. One of the village women in the CRSP research reported a
preference for the leaves of specific bean varieties, indicating a distinct
difference in taste among the leaves of three different preferred bean types.
B. Leaf Plucking as Production Constraint
As previously indicated, both immature bean pods and tender leaves are
plucked, cooked and eaten, or are parboiled, dried and stored for later eating,
as a vegetable. Edje, Mughogho and Ayonoadu (1972) reported that plucking bean
leaves for use as vegetable reduced seed yield significantly. For example,
plucking three leaves once or twice reduces seed yield of bush beans by 21 and
40.8 percent respectively. Climbing beans were less affected by plucking.
Edje (1981), investigating the effects of nitrogen use and leaf removal,
reported that while adding nitrogen increased seed yield significantly, addi-
tional nitrogen did not produce enough leaves to offset the effect of leaf
plucking (Table 1).
Table 1. Effects of Nitrogen and Leaf Plucking on Seed and Leaf Yield
Fresh Leaf Leaf Area
N leaves Seed Yield Yield Defoliated
(kg/ha) No. of Pluckings S(kg/ha) (kg/ha) (dm2)
0 None 799 -- --
One 621 1,875 67
Two 555 3,034 130
Three 273 4,891 156
Mean 562 3,267 118
40 None 1,096 -- --
One 1,034 2,933 98
Two 1,164 5,298 163
Three 701 5,922 195
Mean 999 4,718 152
80 None 1,125 -- --
One 1,287 648 101
Two 1,015 960 172
Three 737 1,230 187
Mean 1,041 946 153
S.E.+ N levels 48 245 7
Leaf plucking 89 165 3
N X Leaf plucking 154 213 6
C. Maize and Beans in Association
Mixed cropping, the practice of growing two or more crops on the same piece
of land, is a popular and traditional cropping system of long standing. It is
a strategy used by smallholders for increasing crop yields, crop diversity, and
the stability of crop production (Gomez and Gomez, 1983). According to a
Malawi national sample survey of agriculture (Anonymous, 1970), 94 percent of
the hectarage was grown to crops as mixtures. In the same survey, only one
percent of the pulses, beans, pigeon peas, cowpeas, etc. were grown as pure
stand while ninety-nine percent were grown in association with other crops,
Intercropping is popular in the tropics (Francis, Flor and Prager, 1978;
Igbozurike, 1977; and Francis, Flor and Temple, 1976) because of several
advantages. These include: increased crop yield (Wiley and Osiru, 1972;
Evans, 1960; Baker, 1978; and Edje, 1982a), more efficient use of labor
(Norman, 1968), more efficient use of water (Baldy, 1963), reduction in pest
incidence (Pearson, 1958; Francis, Flor and Prager, 1978) and improvement in
soil fertility (Agboola and Fayema, 1972). Despite the above advantages,
little research had been done on mixed cropping until the 1970's when
researchers started "going outside the research stations and talking to the
farmers who have been experimenting with intercropping for centuries."
At Malawi's Bunda College of Agriculture, mixed cropping trials have been
conducted on the following crop combinations:
a. maize and beans
b. maize, beans and pumpkins
c. sorghum and beans
d. cassava and beans
e. groundnuts and beans
f. tobacco and beans
g. Acacia albida and beans
h. Leucaena and beans
i. Eucalyptus and beans, and
j. Gmelina and beans
The strategy in these crop combinations has been designed to ensure that
the yield of the main crop, usually maize, is not significantly reduced.
Consequently, yield increases as high as 62 percent have been reported (Edje,
Mughogho and Rao, 1976).
Using the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that a 55-kg
active man requires 2.5 megacalories and 65 g of energy and protein per day,
the Bunda team has calculated that more farmers can be fed on produce from
mixed cropping than sole cropping. This is important since most farm work is
done by hand, operations that need high energy food for hard work.
Ngwira (1981), working on the intercropping of maize, beans and pumpkins
(Cucurbita maxima), showed that maize yield was not significantly affected when
grown in association with either beans or pumpkins (Table 2). The bean and
pumpkin yields were therefore a bonus crop to the farmer since all three crops
were grown on the same piece of land utilizing the same fertilizer meant for
the maize. She also showed that about two months after planting the pumpkins
had completely covered the ground, reducing the frequency of weeding in those
plots. This is important to the smallholder, especially the female producer,
who relies on hand labor for almost all field operations.
Table 2. Yield (kg/ha) of Maize, Beans and Pumpkins in Monoculture and in
Association at Bunda College, 1981.
Crop Combination Maize Beans Pumpkins
Maize alone (MH12) 6,981 --
Bean alone (Climbing; var. 1039) 1,073
Pumpkin (local variety) -- -- 23,478
Maize and beans 7,182 222
Maize and pumpkins 7,037 -- 10,057
Beans and pumpkins -- 784 13,793
Maize, beans and pumpkins 6,138 157 13,602
In recent years, there has been an increased need to integrate crop
production and livestock production in Malawi (Spurling, Spurling and Bowmaker,
1972). Taking an advantage of mixed cropping as a popular cropping system, the
team at Bunda College began investigating the effect of topping maize, either
removing tassel alone or tassel with some leaves on the yield of maize and
beans. The objective was to use the topped part of the maize as green feed or
as dry fodder for fattening steers. It was also hoped that by topping, more
light would become available to the associated bean crop. The data in Table 3
show the effects of these treatments on crop yield (Edje unpublished; Kubwalo,
Table 3. Seed Yield (kg/ha) of Topped Maize in Monoculture and in Association
Maize Yield Bean Yield
Treatments Mono Assoc. Mono Assoc.
No topping of maize 7,423 6,383 2,221 774
Top tassel only 8,067 6,605 -- 741
Top tassel and 2 top leaves 7,850 6,364 -- 652
Top tassel and 4 top leaves 6,928 5,574 -- 864
Kubwalo (1981) reported that assuming that one livestock unit equals 454 kg
and if one livestock unit fees on 11.4 kg per day and if it takes five months
to fatten a steer for slaughter, top tassel only, tassel plus two leaves and
tassel plus four leaves should provide enough feed for one, two and three
livestock units/hectare, respectively (Table 4).
Table 4. Dry Matter and No. of Livestock Units to be Fed on Topped Maize
Treatments DM (kg/ha) Day/L.U. L.U./ha
Top tassel only 2,390 209 1
Top tassel and 2 leaves 3,280 287 2
Top tassel and 4 leaves 5,240 451 3
Another important crop in Malawi is fuelwood. A recent survey (Anonymous,
1981) showed that 94 percent of the energy consumption in Malawi is from
fuelwood where wood is used for heating and cooking in urban as well as in
rural areas. In addition to the above, the checklist of wood use included:
curing tobacco, smoking fish, baking bricks, furniture use, house construction,
canoe building, etc. Because of the importance of trees in the economy of the
country and the role of trees in maintaining the fragile ecosystem, there has
been renewed interest in the re-marriage of agriculture and forestry and also
livestock in an old land use system now referred to as agroforestry.
One of the research areas of agroforestry is the integration of crops and
trees. Preliminary reports (Edje, 1982b, 1982c) showed that beans can be grown
successfully under trees during the first year of the trees' establishment with
reasonable crop yields (Table 5) in what may be termed as the taungya system.
Table 5. Effects of Planting Trees in Monoculture and in Association with
Cropping Systems Bean Yield (kg/ha)
In association with:
S. E. + 76
D. Use of Leucaena Prunings as Fertilizer
Recent increases in fertilizer costs and the previously mentioned general
shortage of fuelwood in the tropics has renewed interest in the use of green
manures. Before the introduction of modern agriculture, farmers in the tropics
were of necessity organic farmers. That is, they used neither commercial
fertilizer nor pesticides.
Trials conducted at Bunda College during the 1982-83 crop season (Edje,
1983a:Figure 1) showed that additional fresh leucaena prunings increased bean
seed yield significantly. Seed yields for 0, 10 and 20 tons/ha of leucaena
were 915, 1160 and 1706 kg/ha respectively. Both 15 and 20 tons/ha of leucaena
yielded higher than 250 kg/ha of a compound fertilizer (20-8.7-0; N-P-K).
E. Growing Beans on Residual Moisture
There are 16 irrigated settlement schemes in Malawi, occupying an estimated
area of 4,147 hectares, and an expansion is planned. Settlement schemes that
have adequate irrigation facilities have two crops of rice yearly. Those that
do not have an adequate water supply produce only one crop of rice, leaving the
land idle for the remainder of the year. In 1980 several adaptive research
trials were initiated aimed at producing package practices for bean production
on residual moisture following a rice crop.
The results of variety trials showed that a mean seed yield of 1,691 kg/ha
could be obtained. The results of other trials showed that beans planted about
mid-June had the highest seed yield of 2,.100 kg/ha. Planting beans at that
time would provide ample time for the crop to mature and to prepare land for a
subsequent crop of rice.
CRSP researchers have recently observed the preparation and planting of
natural residual moisture plots called dimba gardens resting in areas such as
high land depressions or narrow valley passes at the foot of two mountains.
The plot sections were dug down to make 1 1/2-2 foot high beds to fit the
terrain and the water level. Residents with dimba gardens reported three crops
a year and that they seldom run out of beans.
F. Plant Population and Planting Patterns
Plant populations on farmers' fields are usually a rather low 30,000-80,000
plants/ha, presumably because of shortage of seeds or because of the planting
pattern. Planting is usually hill planting except in parts of the Northern
Region where farmers plant three to four rows in ridges about one meter apart.
Earlier work on plant population (Edje, Ayonoadu and Mughogho, 1974; Edje,
Mughogho and Ayonoadu, 1975) showed that beans were highly plastic and were
able to compensate for yield even at low plant densities.
Recent work (Table 6) showed that, at the same plant population, planting
pattern had effect on seed yield.
Earlier work (Edje, Mughogho and Ayonoadu, 1975) showed that beans
responded to liberal dressings of nitrogen. However, prices of fertilizer in
Malawi, as elsewhere, have risen 293 percent in a decade. At this price
increase, the purchase of fertilizer has become less attractive.
However, trials on seed inoculation with Rhizobium bacteria have not
produced appreciable seed yield increases compared with nitrogen fertilizer
(Edje, 1983a:Figure 1).
The commonest storage pest of dry beans in Malawi is Acanthoscelides
obtectus. It is not uncommon to see an entire bean crop destroyed by the pest
within two to three months after harvest. This insect problem has been one
cause of lack of seed for planting.
During one of the survey germplasm collection trips in Northern Malawi in
1982, the team saw farmers storing beans with pod ash. The farmers said that
the use of the pod ash alone was more effective than when the ash was obtained
from the entire plant (less the seeds, of course). The data in Tables 7 and 8
show the results of beans after eleven months in storage. The seeds were
stored in metal tins with three kg of seeds per tin. Not only did the pod ash
protect the seeds in storage, seeds stored in pod ash had more shiny appearance
than those stored in other "insecticides." A more recent trip found two women
farming together with a hired hand. The dried beans had been left in the field
several months before harvesting and were demonstrating a promising infesta-
tion. The surveyors found another woman who demonstrated bean storage with
fresh tobacco leaves, a practice which could have both negative and positive
Table 6. Seed Yield of Six Bean Varieties at Three Planting Patterns
One Row per
One Row per Two Rows per Ridge
Ridge Ridge Hill Planting
VARIETIES (5 cm apart) (10 cm apart) (20 cm apart) MEAN
253/1 1,340 1,464 1,233 1,346
1196 1,822 1,952 1,762 1,845
P692 1,879 2,250 1,840 1,990
P402 2,032 1,896 2,072 2,000
336 2,007 1,607 1,557 1,724
1039 896 968 1,090 1,015
M E A N 1,678 1,690 1,592
Table 7. Effects of Various Insecticides on Bean Storage
No. Insects/kg Seed Weevilled Seeds (%)
Insecticides Alive Dead Not Weevilled Weevilled
Control 25 661 50 50.0
Groundnut oil 51 496 74.7 25.3
Sunflower oil 1,376 743 56.7 43.3
Tobacco dust 3 394 88.0 12.0
Actellic 1 1,266 87.0 12.2
Bean pod ash 3 161 92.0 8.0
253/1 (Tan) 27 465 58.8 41.2
336 (Red) 50 826 72.8 27.2
499/5 (Black) 16 581 83.0 17.0
P692 (White) 53 609 66.5 33.5
Table 8. Germination (%) of Four Bean Varieties Stored with Six Insecticides
INSECTICIDES 253/1 336 489/5 P692 MEAN
Control 36.4 69.2 61.2 36.0 50.7
Groundnut oil 82.8 58.8 68.0 64.0 68.4
Sunflower oil 24.0 37.3 46.8 30.8 34.7
Tobacco dust 89.2 66.8 77.2 89.2 80.6
Actellic 97.2 76.0 78.8 86.8 84.7
Bean pod ash 98.8 86.8 77.2 92.0 88.7
M E A N 71.4 65.8 68.2 66.5
The preferred bean types in Malawi were medium to large in size, kidney-
shaped with seed coat colors ranged from brown, green, red, white and an
occasional blue. A range of patterns are also popular.
Most of the farmers owned their own seed, some having obtained the seeds
from their grandparents. The crop was generally planted in mixed stand with
maize where the later crop provided stake for the bean crop. Two crops of
beans were possible in some areas. The second crop was either relay with beans
or grown as a pure crop following a maize crop.
Double cropping where beans followed maize was common in the Misuku area.
In this area, beans were grown in association with a short-seasoned maize
variety. The maize was harvested after physiological maturity but before it
was completely dry for storage. The maize was dried on a "shelf" over fire
from cooking. Some maize leaves were stripped from the plant, buried and new
ridges made; and a second crop of beans were planted. The second crop was
generally a bush or semi-climber. Some of the Agricultural Extension workers
said that farmers were reluctant to accept long duration hybrid maize because
it interfered with the second crop of beans. In some areas, as was indicated
earlier, a third crop of beans can be grown either on residual moisture or near
Farmers did not apply fertilizer to beans. However, where beans and maize
were grown in association, the maize crop was often fertilized and the beans
could take advantage of this association. As previously stated, farmers grow
several types of beans. The reasons given were for yield stability and for
stretching the availability of leaves and seeds for food and cash. For
economic reasons, the small red, Katolika, were often planted. They were high
yielding and could be sold even though they had some negative characteristics.
The red kidney (Saaba), sugar beans (Serenje), the dark reds (Chazama), the
green (nyauzembe), cream with olive stripes (mwangulungulu), etc. were gener-
ally preferred either because of taste and/or ease of cooking. Mwangulungulu
was said to be good for children while some of the dark reds (mazungu) were
said to cause stomach problems for children. The small whites and, to some
extent, the large whites were easy to cook but soured easily and stored poorly.
Surplus seeds were sold at village markets and to a produce-buying organi-
zation, Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC). ADMARC,
in the past, paid premium price for monocolored seeds, thereby discouraging
farmers from selling blends. Since farmers grew beans as mixtures of types,
seeds were therefore sorted before they were sold. Private entrepreneurs were
also observed in local rural markets buying the many small quantities of beans
brought by women in baskets of various sizes and even wrapped in scarves.
These agents would go from market to market filling large 90-100k bags with the
assorted beans to take to the cities to resell. These middlemen (only one such
woman was observed in about fifteen minutes), who were clearly making a good
profit, are an important link to the bean subsector of the country.
A great deal more of the information that is required will have to be
collected in the field. Much of the emphasis in the documents available gives
elaborate descriptions of maize and millet cultivation. Beans and cowpeas are
hardly mentioned. Compiling the right kinds of questions for the agro/socio-
cultural survey is thus of vital importance to the project. Also, the integral
role of women in food production in the North where the project is now situated
implies that women and their culture are important factors in project research
with beans. A very comprehensive document is evolving from the work of this
G. Researching the Social Science of Bean Production/Utilization
The social science contribution to this project is based on procedures
developed and modified by the joint social/agricultural sciences team. The US
and Host Country colleagues have participated in its evolution. Progress is
reported as follows:
Aside from the field training of the now fourteen enumerators, Bunda
College is identifying a female Malawi student for graduate training in the US
who will contribute to the program at Bunda College and eventually be able to
take over the role of field supervisor, replacing the current experienced
ex-patriate recently arrived in the country.
Team of Bunda College female students trained and field tested in
methodology by US social science team in collaboration with Host Country
team. See "Technical Report No. l." Methodology adjusted as
Six-week pilot study by trained team carried out in the northern region
of Malawi. See "Technical Report No. 2." Methodology adjusted as
Four young village women (two teams of two), having completed an appro-
priate level of public education and fluent in English and the local
languages, were identified by the Host Country project personnel. These
new village teams were trained as enumerators by the previously trained
and now experienced Bunda College team. The village teams established
residence in the assigned areas where beans are grown and carried out
the research over a four-six month period, sampling forty families.
Families were identified by the extension agents as known growers of
beans. The purpose of this phase was to prepare the new teams for
Phase 4 and to identify the pool of families from which a smaller number
could be chosen for the year-long study.
From the forty families, five were chosen per village research team to
be studied over a year's time. Criteria for their selection were their
willingness to participate and their proximity to a team's residence
(maximum of two-hour walk one way). Two additional teams to cover other
parts of the region were identified and are being trained and outfitted
as the others (clothes, shoes, research materials). A field supervisor
(MSU rural sociology post-doc) has been assigned and has moved to the
area. A standard visitation schedule for a set of five families was
developed for the teams and is attached. As a result of these proce-
dures, a total of twenty families, five in each of four ecologically
different bean growing areas in northern Malawi, are being intensively
observed for a year.
With Phase 4 now finally under way, the data from Phase 3 are being
analyzed. Preliminary findings from that work are presented as "Technical
Report No. 3."
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