Subsector Overview: Common Beans in Costa Rica

Costa Rica's Agricultural Economy

Land Use. Costa rica is 51,100 square km, slightly larger than two times the size of Vermont. In terms of land use (Table 1), FAO classifies 56.1% of the country's land areas as agricultural. Of the total agricultural area, 81.7% is classsified as permanent pasture, 7.9% as arable, and 10.5% as permanent crop area.

Primary Crops. During the period 2000-2004, 391,940 ha were planted to primary crops (Table 2). Ten crops accounted for 84.8% of the country's harvested area--green coffee (111,704 ha, 24.2% of harvested area), followed by paddy rice (54,328 ha, 11.8%), sugar cane (48,040 ha, 10.4%), bananas (43,655 ha, 9.4%), oil palm fruit (36,514 ha, 7.9%), oranges (26,260 ha, 5.7%), fresh fruit (24,200 ha, 5.2%), dry beans (23,352 ha, 5.1%), pineapples (14,976 ha, 3.2%), and plantains (8,910 ha, 1.9%).

Bean Farming Systems
Beans are grown throughout Costa Rica in two seasons, the Primera and the Postrera. In the Primera (May-August), ...% of the harvested area is planted. In the Postrera (October-December), ...% of the harvested area is planted. Approximately 30% of the beans are planted on valleys while 70% are planted on hillsides. During the Primera, 90% of the beans are planted as monocrop in the Central Valley, while associated beans are more important in the Postrera.

Additionally, other farming systems used are: relay (or take over) beans with corn, specially in areas where climb beans are planted; and cover beans (which requires soils with high levels of organic matter to cover bean seeds), used more with landraces.

Trends in Bean Production, Harvested Area and Yields
. During the past decade (1995-2004), total bean production averaged 16,791 mt (Figure 1, Table 3). While the bean production decreased at an annual rate of 6.3%/year during the decade (mean of 1995-98 vs. 2002-2004), production varied greatly from-year-to-year--ranging from 33,343 mt (1995) to 10,500 mt (2004), with a CV of 38%.

Harvested Area. During the decade, the bean harvested area averaged 32,309 ha (Figure 1, Table 3). While the bean harvested areas decreased at an annual rate of 9.7%/year, the harvested areas varied greatly from year-to-year--ranging from 56,322 ha (1995) to 20,267 ha (2003 and 2004), with a CV of 36%.

Yields. During the decade, bean yields increased at an annual rate of 3.8%/year (Figure 2, Table 3). While yields averaged 539 kg/ha, they varied greatly from year-to-year--ranging from 317 kg/ha (1997) to 744 kg/ha (2003), with a CV of 25%.

Bean Market Classes
Both black and small red beans are grown in Costa Rica. Black beans account for 80% of annual production while small red account for an estimated 20% of annual production. Besides this, red beans are paid a higher price than black.

Domestic Bean Marketing Channels

Trends in Bean Prices

Bean Consumption


Value-Added Bean Products

International Trade in Beans
Costa Rica imports and exports beans but it can be considered as an importer country. During the period 1999-2004, exports averaged 445 mt (CV=40%), while imports averaged 28,943 mt (CV=14%) (Figure 3, Table 4). Over the period, imports averaged about 208.4% of production and exports averaged about 3.2% of production (Figure 4).

Import Partners. During 1999-2004, Costa Rica imported the largest share of its bean imports from Nicaragua (39.3%), followed by Argentina (32.1%), and Guatemala (9.3%) (Figure 5, Table 5).

Export Partners. During 1999-2004, Costa Rica exported the largest share of its bean exports to Nicaragua (42.2%), followed by the U.S. (26.1%), and El Salvador (17.4%) (Figure 6, Table 6).

Bean Research
Research Centers. The breeding program in Costa Rica is focused in working mainly with small farmers with less than 3 ha -which are approximately 99% of the farmers; with farmers that produce using low inputs; that cultivate their crops on hillsides and with farmers that are organized in groups. Less importance is given to farmers that produce on valleys, probably because these may be medium (50 ha) or big (>150 ha) farmers with higher incomes and therefore more input use on their production.

The University of Costa Rica breeding program works with two kinds of locations for conducting its research: experimental stations and farmers’ fields. Among the most important traits considered when evaluating bean lines for their release are: architecture of the plant (bush-type are preferred), yield (higher yields are preferred), resistance to angular leaf spot, resistance to web blight, high market value and regional stability (especially to the Brunca region). Other important traits considered are the resistance to anthracnose, rust, bean common mosaic virus and bean golden mosaic virus. However, Bean Golden Mosaic Virus (BGMV) resistance is an important trait for varieties that will be released for the Central Valley region because the incidence is high there.

Major Constraints to Increasing Bean Production. Among the most important factors that reduce yields are:

Additional (socioeconomic) factors that reduce bean yields are: agronomic management --which requires technical support to improve management--; better techniques for weed control; market price, imports and seed color --which all influence the price received by the farmers.

In order to help increasing farmers’ yields, government and private parties should:

Recent Varietal Releases. During 1994-2004, the University of Costa Rica's breeding program have released several varieties in the country: Bribri, Chirripo Rojo, Cabecar and Telire; the last three with better market color but require longer cooking time because of their hard seeds. All the varieties released are bush-type varieties, which can be harvested between 70-80 days after planting. BriBri was released in 1982 while Chirripo Rojo in 1996. BriBri is characterized for having a dark red seed while the other three varieties have bright red seed.

In Costa Rica, two landraces and five improved varieties are the most planted. The two landraces are Vaina Blanca and Sacapobre. Vaina Blanca is preferred because is a good variety to plant associated with other crops (usually corn). Sacapobre is planted mainly in the Brunca region.

The five improved varieties are: BriBri, Talamanca, Brunca, Telire, and Cabecar. BriBri is preferred by its color (dark red) and is planted mainly in the south region. Talamanca is a black bean variety preferred by its resistance to web blight and is planted in the north and south of the country. However, this variety is susceptible to anthracnose. Brunca is another black bean variety that is planted in the north and south regions. Telire and Cabecar are small red varieties.

To address some of the problems that limit adoption of improved varieties, the breeding program introduced participatory plant breeding eight years ago. BriBri has been used as starter material to improve using this approach.

Bean Seed Production and Marketing

In Costa Rica, two kinds of seed are produced: certified seed and craft seed. The University of Costa Rica and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock are the two institutions in charge of producing certified seed while most of the farmers and association of farmers produce craft seed. However, in the south of the country, the control over certified seed is difficult.

Currently, there is enough seed production of improved varieties to supply farmers’ seed needs. This seed is distributed through the National Production Council which has a central office and some branches through the country. The central office is located in the Pacific Central department. Unfortunately, the branches have inefficient marketing channels. Despite this, these distribution channels are considered adequate to supply current farmers’ needs for improved seed.

Government Policies Affecting Bean Production