Subsector Overview: Common Beans in El Salvador

El Salvador's Agricultural Economy

Land Use. El Salvador is 21,040 square km, slightly smaller than New Jersey. In terms of land use (Table 1), FAO classifies 81.3% of the country's land areas as agricultural. Of the total agricultural area, 47.1% is classsified as permanent pasture, 38% as arable, and 14.8% as permanent crop area.

Primary Crops. During the period 2000-2004, 681,271 ha were planted to primary crops (Table 2). Ten crops accounted for 93.6% of the country's harvested area--maize (259,137 ha, 35.6% of harvested area), followed by green coffee (161,443 ha, 22.2%), sorghum (83,957 ha, 11.5%), dry beans (83,702 ha, 11.5%), sugar cane (60,818 ha, 8.4%), sesame seeds (10,480 ha, 1.4%), bananas (6,000 ha, 0.8%), paddy rice (5,542 ha, 0.8%), oranges (5,191 ha, 0.7%), and olives (5,000 ha, 0.7%).

Bean Farming Systems
Beans are grown through El Salvador in three planting seasons, the Primera, the Postrera and the Apante. In the Primera (end of May to beginning of August), 15% of the harvested area is planted. In the Postrera (end of August to middle of November), 80% of the harvested area is planted. In the Apante (end of November to end of February), 5% of the harvested area is planted. Approximately 90% of the beans are planted on hillsides while 10% are planted on valleys. During the Primera, beans are planted as monocrop (33%) and associated (67%). In the Postrera, 100% of the beans are planted as relay crop (or take over, possible with corn) contrary to the Apante where 100% of the beans are planted as monocrop.

Trends in Bean Production, Harvested Area and Yields
. During the past decade (1995-2004), total bean production averaged 68,436 mt (Figure 1, Table 3). While the bean production increased at an annual rate of 5.8%/year during the decade (mean of 1995-98 vs. 2002-2004), production varied greatly from-year-to-year--ranging from 46,603 mt (1998) to 84,298 mt (2004), with a CV of 19%.

Harvested Area. During the decade, the bean harvested area averaged 78,227 ha (Figure 1, Table 3). While the bean harvested areas increased at an annual rate of 2.3%/year, the harvested areas varied greatly from year-to-year--ranging from 60,620 ha (1995) to 86,000 ha (2004), with a CV of 11%.

Yields. During the decade, bean yields increased at an annual rate of 3.4%/year (Figure 2, Table 3). While yields averaged 872 kg/ha, they varied greatly from year-to-year--ranging from 597 kg/ha (1998) to 993 kg/ha (2002), with a CV of 13%.

Bean Market Classes
In El Salvador, both small red and black beans are grown through the country. Small red beans account for an estimated 90% of annual production while black beans account for an estimated 10% of annual production. Among the small red beans, landraces are the most preferred (55% of annual production).

Domestic Bean Marketing Channels

Trends in Bean Prices

Bean Consumption


Value-Added Bean Products

International Trade in Beans
El Salvador import and export beans but its imports are far higher than its exports. During the period 1999-2004, exports averaged about 2,867 mt (CV=18%), while imports averaged 18,378 mt (CV=32%) (Figure 3, Table 4). Over the period, imports averaged about 24% of production and exports averaged about 4% of production (Figure 4).

Import Partners. During 1999-2004, El Salvador imported the largest share of its bean imports from Nicaragua (57.4%), followed by Honduras (38.9%), and Guatemala (2.7%) (Figure 5, Table 5).

Export Partners. During 1999-2004, El Salvador exported the largest share of its bean exports to the U.S. (65.5%), followed by Nicaragua (25.5%), and Honduras (4.8%) (Figure 6, Table 6).

Bean Research
Research Centers. The breeding program in El Salvador, Centro Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria y Forestal (CENTA), is mainly focused on helping small farmers (< 1 ha), farmers that produce on hillsides, farmers that apply low levels of purchased inputs to their fields, and farmers that produce in the Apante season. Medium (4-5 ha) farmers are also considered by the research program while less importance is given to big farmers or farmers that produce on valleys and using high levels of purchased inputs in their production.

The bean research program works with three types of location for conducting its research: experimental stations, research station-owned fields and farmers’ fields. The experimental stations are located in two departments: La Libertad (southwest region) --characterized by high white fly and rust pressure; and Morazan (northeast region). The research station is located in San Salvador (center-west region). Farmers’ fields are located in the department of La Libertad and are used for validation of the lines.

This program considers the following as the most important traits to evaluate while breeding their lines: high yields; resistance to web blight, Bean Golden Mosaic Virus (BGMV) and Bean Common Mosaic Virus (BCMV); and good market value (color, size, shape of the seeds). Other important traits considered are the resistance to severe mosaic virus, pod insects (“picudo”), earliness (to harvest) and plant architecture. Less importance is given to resistance to angular leaf spot and anthracnose.

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

Additional (socioeconomic) factors that limit bean production are: use of landraces; pests; and market conditions --production cycles and prices fluctuate too much across years. In order to help increasing farmers’ yields, government and private parties should:

Recent Varietal Releases. Since 1994, the bean research program in El Salvador has released four improved varieties: Rojo Salvadoreño 1 in 1997; Centa Costeña in 1998; Centa 2000 in 2000; and Centa San Andres in 2002. All these are small red varieties. Among the main factors that limit the adoption of bean improved varieties are: extension programs (technology transfers) are not enough and grain market value (some colors are preferred over others). The latter is the main limiting factor for adoption of Centa 2000 and Centa San Andres because the color of their seeds has lower market value than other varieties.

Bean Seed Production and Marketing

In El Salvador, two kinds of seed are produced: improved seeds and craft seeds. CENTA is the institution in charge of producing improved seeds. During 2000-2002, the “libra por libra” (pound by pound) program promoted craft seed production.

Currently, there is not enough production of seeds of improved varieties to supply farmers’ seed needs. It will be required approximately 11,200 MT of seed to cover their demand. Farmers usually produce seed in May and plant it in August; however, given poor storage facilities, this seed has lower quality and fungus and bacteria damages at planting time which causes a reduction on yields. In order to distribute seed of improved varieties, NGOs buy the seed from CENTA and they distribute it to farmers. Then, farmers distribute it among other farmers. However, this distribution channel is not adequate to meet farmers’ current seed needs.

Government Policies Affecting Bean Production