Azadirachta indica, also known as the neem tree or Indian lilac, is a tropical evergreen with wide adaptability. Native to India and Burma, the tree has been transplanted to Africa, the Middle East, South America and Australia. Azadirachta indica is native to tropical and semitropical regions and has been domesticated in Asia. Today, the drought-resistant neem tree is widespread across India and Indonesia and grows well in drained and sandy soil.
The fast-growing Azadirachta indica is a source of food for both plants and wildlife. People consume its fruits raw or cooked, and sometimes eat the young twigs and flowers as vegetables. Extracts or crude parts of the neem tree are often mixed with stored seeds such as maize, rice and beans in order to protect them against insects. Neem extracts can be ground into powder, then soaked with water, and applied as an eco-friendly spray to protect plants from foliage-eating insects such as locusts without affecting pollinating insects such as honeybees. The fruit is also an important source of nutrients for some wildlife, especially birds and bats, although they digest only the pulp, not the seed. The bark, leaves and fruit have also been long traditionally used to treat syphilis, leprosy, rheumatism and skin disease, among many other ailments. Wood from the neem tree is used to make tool handles, doors and furniture but is not often used for construction. Resins may also be extracted from the tree for caulking and the tree also contains tannins used for tanning goods.
In the field
In Kenya, neem oil has been used by farmers as a bio-friendly pesticide. After recent swarms of locusts devasted crops, farmers converted neem oil into an organic homemade spray that has proven effective against locusts and other insects.
The seed oil has potential for biodiesel given it contains the appropriate values for physicochemical properties, conforming to international standards. These, coupled with their high yield, attest to the production viability and efficiency of neem biodiesel. From the seeds, 40 percent oil can be extracted, which is very useful to produce a great amount of biodiesel, with an optimized biodiesel yield of 89.69 percent.
ICRAF (2014). The wonderful neem tree, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya
Heuzé V., Tran G., Archimède H., Bastianelli D., Lebas F., 2015. Neem (Azadirachta indica). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO.
Awolu, O. O., & Layokun, S. K. (2013). Optimization of two-step transesterification production of biodiesel from neem (Azadirachta indica) oil. International Journal of Energy and Environmental Engineering, 4(1), 39.
Hashmat, I., Azad, H., & Ahmed, A. (2012). Neem (Azadirachta indica Juss)-A nature’s drugstore: an overview. Int Res J Biol Sci, 1(6), 76-79.
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The information provided in this article is not peer-reviewed and is not intended as advice. It is based on current knowledge and the available literature. CIFOR and partner organizations do not provide any guarantees and recommend interested stakeholders undertake further independent assessments and verifications before making business and investment decisions.