Dr. Harischamdra Darro (Dept. of Forestry),
Dr. Abhay Bisen (Dept. of Horticulture)
Parminder Singh Saini
(Dept. of Genetics and Plant Breeding)


Neem (Azadirachta indica) belonging to Meliaceae family is one of the most suitable and valuable tree species found in India. It can grow on wide range of soils up to pH 10 which makes it one of the most versatile and important trees in Indian sub-continent. Due to its multifarious uses, it has been cultivated by Indian farmers since vedic period and it has now become part of Indian culture. Farmers practice this system just to meet the local demand for timber, fodder, fuelwood and also for various medicinal properties. Due to its deep tap root system, it does not compete with annual crops for scarce soil moisture. Neem tree can be labeled as wonder tree for its multipurpose uses in real sense. This has been used as a medicinal plant for long time and provides almost all the requirements of rural areas - be the timber, fuel wood, fodder, oil, fertilizers, pest repellent or the ubiquitous 'datun'.

It is grown from the southern tip of Kerala to the Himalayan hills in the tropical to sub tropical and semi arid to wet tropical regions and from the sea level to about 700 m elevation. It has been widely cultivated in India and African countries. In India, it occurs throughout the larger parts of the country in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu.

Description of plant
A large evergreen tree, 12 to 18 meter in height and 1.8 to 2.4 meter in girth with a straight bole and long spreading branches forming a broad crown as much as 20 meters across, commonly found throughout greater parts of India. Bark Grey or dark reddish brown with numerous and scattered tubercles. The bark exudes a gum known as East India gum. Leaves alternate 20 - 30 cm long, leaflets 8 - 19 alternate or opposite ovate glossy, bluntly serrate. Flowers : white or pale yellow, small, scented, numerous on long axillary panicles, have a honey like scent and attract many bees.Fruit : Fruit is a ovoid bluntly pointed, smooth drupe green when young and turns yellow with a very thin epicarp, mesocarp with scanty pulp and a hard bony endocarp, enclosing one seed.The timber is relatively heavy with a specific gravity varying from 0.56 to 0.85 (average 0.68) when freshly cut, it has a strong smell.The flowering season of Neem varies from place to place. Generally it flowers from January to May and the ripening time of fruits is from May to August. The fruit pulp is edible.

Neem extracts are used as insecticides, pesticides and fungicides. Neem oil has antibacterial, antiviral properties and used in skin and dental problems. Neem products are being used for malaria, fever, pain and also as contraceptive. Neem is also being used in cosmetics, lubricants and fertilizers. Neem bark is used in villages for rope making. Neem oil is used in soap manufacture.

Neem in Agro-forestry
The tree component in the agro-forestry systems is preferred to be of local use, easily marketable with good economic value. Although Neem is not considered as the best tree species under agroforestry systems nevertheless, in many parts of India it has been found to be suitable as agroforestry species. In semi-arid conditions at Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, Jhansi, Neem alongwith other tree species increased the productivity of a silvicultural system upto 8.5 tonne / hectare. It has been reported that the fodder production can be increased from 0.5 to 3.6 tonne / hectare in arid zone of Thar Desert by growing suitable grasses and legumes along with Neem and several other tree species.

Neem as a Timber Tree
Neem is a large ever green tree 15 to 20 M. high with semi-straight and straight trunk 30 to 80 cm in diameter and spreading branches forming a broad crown. It has a long life of 100 years. Neem tree has several economic advantages over other multi-purpose tree species grown in India. Although the main use of the tree is for production of seeds for extracting oil, the tree can be harvested for timber after 35 to 40 years of planting. The sap wood of Neem is greyish white and heart wood is red to reddish brown resembling Mahogany. The wood is aromatic moderately heavy with uneven grains, durable and not easily attacked by insects. Timber is medium refractory and seasons well even when sawn wet. It is easy to work with the timber but does not take good polish. Wood is used for building houses, as posts, beams, door / window frames, furniture, carts, axles, yorks, ship and boat building, helms & oars, oil mills, cigar boxes, carved images, toys and agricultural implements.

Harvesting, Yield & Returns
Neem starts bearing fruits after 5 years and comes to full bearing at the age of 10-12 years. Fruit yield is 5-20 kg per tree per year in the initial years. A mature tree produces 35-50 kg fruit/year. Oil yield varies from 40-43% of seed on dry weight basis. Highest oil content has been reported from Banswara region of Rajasthan (43.2%), while the lowest oil yield of 32.4% has been reported from Jaisalmer region. It has been observed that as rainfall in an area increases oil content also increases. Among the International provenances tested, Bangladesh provenance has yielded maximum oil content (48.6%). However we presume a conservative yield of 5, 6, 10, 15, 20 kg/tree respectively from 5th year onwards. Yield generally stabilises from 9th year. Sale price of the seed may be considered @ Rs.5/kg. Neem seed price is projected to be Rs.10000 / ton in the near future. So, it is high time to exploit the potential of this hitherto neglected tree & to manage Neem for higher economic returns to farmers. It has been estimated that 10 yr old tree can yield a timber of 5-6 c.ft / tree.