Material Information

Malawi focus on a bean culture
Physical Description:
54 p. : ; 28 cm.
Aryeetey, Ellen Bortei-Doku
Edje, O.T
Bean/Cowpea Collaborative Research Support Program
Bean/Cowpea CRSP, Michigan State University
Place of Publication:
East Lansing, MI
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Beans -- Malawi   ( lcsh )
Beans -- Research -- Malawi   ( lcsh )
Women in agriculture -- Malawi   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage:


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 51-54).
Statement of Responsibility:
E. Bortei-Doku and O.T. Edje.

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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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oclc - 613376986
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E. Bortei-Doku, Ph.D.
P. W. Barnes-McConnell, Ph.D.
Michigan State University
0. T. Edje, Ph.D.
Bunda College of Agriculture

Bean/Cowpea CRSP
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan 48824-1035

October 1984

B '~i LinZ




. .



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 .


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 .

. .

. .

. .

. .

. .

. .













G. Researching the Social Science of Bean Production/Utilization 48

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . ..... . 52

. .


. .



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.


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

Yearbook, 1979).

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

marsh land.

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

B.1. Population

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

post-colonial government.

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
of trade.


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

area (ibid.).

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

relatively unchanged.

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

(Chanok, 1973:27-35).


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

in-laws farms.

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,

op. cit.:27).

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.



A. Utilization

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,

notably maize.

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
with Beans.

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
Plant Parts

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)

Monoculture 1,578
In association with:
Acacia 1,342
Eucalyptus 1,252
Gmelina 1,292
Leucaena 1,390

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.

Seed Inoculation:

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).

Seed Storage:

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

Bean Varieties
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

a stream.

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.



Phase 1

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


Phase 2

Six-week pilot study by trained team carried out in the northern region

of Malawi. See "Technical Report No. 2." Methodology adjusted as


Phase 3

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.

Phase 4

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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