Adoption of legumes in Africa remains low despite the much needed soil fertility and nutrition benefits provided by the crops. We employ choice experiments to examine farmers’ preferences for groundnut, soybean and pigeon pea intercropped with maize and explore barriers and drivers to adoption in Central and Southern Malawi. Overall, farmers significantly discount legume yields in favor of maize yields despite the additional benefits provided by legumes. Labor constraints and market access are potentially more important barriers to legume adoption than previously thought. Results identified three types of farmers, the largest group (48%) associated with strongly positive preference for gains in grain yield and negative for labor requirements and distant markets, a medium- sized group (35%) with no legume yield preference, and the smallest group (17%) indifferent to yield and market factors. The medium group may be growing legumes for other benefits such as enhanced maize productivity, and the smallest group may be primarily subsistence producers. These findings suggest that uptake of legume maize intercrop systems might be improved if practitioners focus on legumes that have lower labor requirements and better marketability. Conducting participatory research with farmers to demonstrate the context specific tradeoff in yields between various legumes and maize in intercrop could help increase adoption.