Soil degradation in semi-arid West Africa can be reversed through an intensified application of organic matter, especially on coarse soils. Woody perennials have been promoted in the region to secure organic matter sources and improve soil productive capacity, yet the mechanisms by which perennials provide benefits to soils and crops remain poorly understood, and no effective, generalizable agronomic recommendations exist. Here, we reviewed the effects of trees and shrubs on soil properties and on crop yields in semi-arid West Africa (< 1000 mm year−1). Specific objectives of this meta-analysis were to (i) describe and (ii) quantify the effects of the presence of woody perennials and of ramial wood amendments on crop productivity and soil characteristics, and (iii) identify general recommendations on the integration of perennials with crops. An iterative keyword search was conducted to gather relevant literature. The search string consisted of four parts: source, practice, responses, and countries of interest. In total, 26 references on agroforestry parklands and 21 on woody amendments were included in the meta-database (314 entries, 155 for parklands, and 159 for ramial wood). We show that (1) the presence of shrubs and trees on agricultural fields had an overall positive but variable effect on soil total C (i.e. + 20 to 75%); (2) millet and sorghum yields were often higher in the presence of shrubs (− 25 to + 120%); (3) more variability was observed in the presence of trees (− 100 to + 200%); and (4) the use of shrub- and tree-based ramial wood resulted in equal or higher cereal yields as compared to the control (− 30 to + 100%). Upscaling the use of biodiversity-driven processes in farming systems of West Africa may provide benefits to overall ecosystems, but species’ choice and trade-offs perceived at the farm level, including labour management and low ramial wood availability, should be addressed through future research.
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- Shrub-crop associations
- Woody amendments