Understanding farmers’ perceptions and the effects of shea (Vitellaria paradoxa) tree distribution in agroforestry parklands of Upper West Region, Ghana

Document Type


Publication Date



College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Department of Social Sciences


Agroforestry parklands, characterized by scattered trees growing within cultivated crop fields, are the most widespread agricultural system in semi-arid West Africa. Agroforestry trees offer many ecological and socioeconomic benefits, such as added income, food, and medicine. They are currently under threat in this region due to recent changes in agricultural and land use practices. For example, a reduction in traditional fallow rotation periods has led to decreased regeneration of a common agroforestry tree, shea (Vitellaria paradoxa), which has been an important economic resource for women. The aims of this study were to determine beneficial spatial distributions of shea to maintain high yields of staple crops and to better understand male and female farmer perceptions of shea maintenance. We compared maize (Zea mays) vegetative growth, grain yield, soil moisture, and light availability associated with individual shea trees and clumps of trees on five farms in Ghanaian agroforestry parklands. We also interviewed local farmers to better understand their management perspectives. Maize vegetative growth increased with light availability, but was not limited by soil moisture. Conversely and contrary to farmer perceptions, grain yield was not influenced by light availability, but increased with increasing soil moisture. Also contrary to common beliefs of local farmers, grain yield was greater under clumps of shea compared to scattered distributions of individual trees. We therefore recommend the maintenance of clumped distributions of shea, as they provide beneficial microclimates for staple crops, and could assist in improving the productivity of shea products that are considered the domain of women farmers.

Publisher's Statement

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10457-017-0150-1

Publication Title

Agroforestry Systems