Neem, also known as Nimtree or Ineem, and scientifically as Azadirachta indica, is a tree belonging to the mahogany family typically grown in tropical and semi-tropical regions of the world.

Noted for its drought resistance, it thrives best on well drained deep and sandy soils under annual rainfall of 400mm–1, 200mm and annual mean temperatures of 21°C–32°C (70°F –90°F).

A neem expert, Dr Abdullahi Ahmed Yar’adua, formerly a lecturer at the Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, Katsina, said the economic benefit of neem is high, and that the Nigerian government could earn several times much more than the Indian government is earning from neem.

Dr Yar’adua confirmed that, “The Indian sub-continent has a population of about 20 million neem trees and as far back as 1985 up to 1995 the government was reaping about 2.5 billion USD from the sale of neem oil alone.”

Meanwhile, “Nigeria is estimated to have over 100 million neem trees,  meaning the country loses about 12.5 billion USD annually from sales of  neem oil alone, base on India’s example,” he lamented.

The expert pointed out that neem is pesticidal in nature and rich in  compounds that are effective against several insects, fungi, bacteria,  nematodes among others, in addition to control of striga.

Striga, a noxious weed known locally as ‘wuta wuta’ and is the most  important factor that contributes to the downturn of agriculture in  Northern Nigeria, he said, adding that it is an indicator weed that thrives on poor  fertility soils.

Dr Yar’adua noted that pesticides developed from biological materials or organic matter like neem are termed bio-pesticides, otherwise known as organic pesticides.

He stated that bio-pesticides are multi-purpose in nature unlike inorganic pesticides which have just one function at a time.

“Neem possesses properties against all forms of microorganisms and all forms of pests and diseases,” he said.

Dr Yar’adua affirmed that neem is one of the most common pesticidal material that when used doesn’t carry problems as in the case of inorganic pesticides.

Speaking on neem utilisation as fertiliser, the expert highlighted that both organic fertiliser and bio-fertiliser could be produced from neem.

“Organic fertiliser is the opposite of inorganic fertilizer, like NPK or Urea, which mostly have a dosage that needs to be adhered to, now this dosage, if it is under used, has toxic effect on the plant, or may end up killing the plant if it’s used in over dose,” he said.

He also noted that organic fertilisers released their chemical components little at a time, and therefore do not have toxic effect on plants or the soil.

On comparative advantages of using bio-pesticides, Dr Yar’adua hinted that organic fertilisers and bio-pesticides are user and environmentally friendly, adding that because of the abundance of neem in the country, harnessing the potential of neem bio-pesticides and organic fertiliser as a home-based technology would be at little or no cost to farmers.

Dr Abdullahi stressed that if farmers will be sensitised on production of neem oil, neem pesticides and neem fertiliser, the amount of benefit that will accrue to the country was enormous.

He blamed the dwindling neem industry on the inferiority complex among Nigerian leaders who believe that anything foreign or imported was better than locally produced ones.

He also lamented how the neem processing plant at Katsina constructed by the Obasanjo administration was left to rot away until it was finally sold out to a foreign company.

Dr Yar’adua therefore charged government to put its weight behind the production of neem products in order to reap the economic benefits so that farmers will be properly sensitised and also key into it.

The expert expressed optimism that with the UNIDO project on neem coming up, it would be a good starting point for the Nigerian government to pick up the good work, create awareness and sensitise farmers about the benefits of using neem products for crop production.

“This project is to be a role model for the government and the people to see the potentials farmers can get for processing neem into bio-fertiliser, organic fertiliser and bio-pesticides,” he said.

Similarly, Mrs Laraba S. Sani, Managing Director of NeemPro Katsina Limited, has appealed to government to create a favourable business environment in which the neem industry could thrive for the benefit of farmers and the country at large.

The company, which is into production of neem oil, organic fertiliser, neem cake and Azadirachtin extract strictly for the international market, has a capacity to produce 30 tonnes of each neem product per day on a single shift and 50 tonnes per day on a double shift.

The MD pointed out that funding was their key challenge, adding that low patronage, competition with government subsidised fertilisers which farmers prefer to buy and high cost of raw materials also hinder the smooth operations of the company.

Mrs Sani, however, expressed optimism that with the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) of the Federal Government, farmers were made to purchase at least an organic product in the last dry season farming, thereby sensitizing them about neem products and other organic products.