This study reports the various elements and contexts that characterize the farmers’ use and management of common bean seed and varieties in southern Ethiopia. The study used focus group discussions, contact-farmer interviews and surveys. The results demonstrate that farmers’ cropping systems and preferences vary strongly. Moreover, the high level of environmental variation and the associated risks of crop failure have increased even more with climate instability. While farmers are aware of climate instability, only about half of them have adapted some cropping practices to better cope with it. Simultaneously, markets offer different opportunities and common bean production expands in areas at slightly higher elevation. In these conditions, common bean production is increasingly important for farmers. They currently manage only modest levels of bean crop diversity. Farmers’ variety and seed management practices do not show a high level of specialization and at the same time the use of off-farm seed sources is relatively high. This situation provides opportunities for strategic development and introduction of common bean genetic diversity. Earlier maturing, more drought-tolerant common bean varieties for a range of conditions, markets and preferences should be developed with an integrated understanding of farmers’ production conditions and existing seed system practices.