NEEM - A BLESSING FOR FARMERS

It enjoys the most befitting title: "Village Pharmacy"

M.R. CHAUDHRY
Jan 15 - 21, 2007

Plants, animals and human beings are inter-connected and inter-dependent upon each other in many respects. Trees, plants and greenery provide food, fodder and fiber for human beings and animals. They also consume carbon dioxide and emit oxygen for environmental protection and health safety of all living beings.

It has been estimated that 50 percent of the plants and herbs have medicinal value. Neem enjoys great importance and significance amongst them. Its botanical name is Azadirachta Indica. From almost the very beginning of human history and even in pre-historic times, ancient herbalists had discovered the analgesic qualities of this wonderful tree. A good account of its qualities and properties is outlined in the earliest Sanskrit writings and its uses in Hindu school of medicines, Ayurvedic and Unani Hikmet. It enjoys the most befitting title: "Village Pharmacy". According to the National Research Council (USA), "Neem is a tree for solving global problems". It has rather stirred the imagination of the Western world.

Agro-based scientists are highly interested to promote the cultivation of Neem forests because of its effectiveness, availability and safety. Neem is highly suitable as an environment friendly tree. The great scholar Ali Gillani has called it "a blessed tree".

Neem is thought to be the native of Assam and Burma. Although its exact origin is not known, it is said to be the native of the Indo-Pak sub-continent. It is found in South and South-East Asia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, Sub-Sahran Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, Australia and Latin American countries. It is a tropical and sub-tropical plant.

INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIA

Four international symposia were held till 1993, first and second in Germany in the years 1980 and 1983, third in Kenya in the year 1986 and fourth in India in 1993, wherein it was concluded that Neem products are effective and quite safe ecologically and environmentally as well as cost-effective.

I- NEEM AS PESTICIDE

All its parts including bark, leaves, seeds, kernel, gum, oil and cake have medicinal and therapeutic value. It is being used in insect management of agricultural crops. It is a systematic insecticide. If the pests are controlled, it would substantially increase the production of our crops, prosper our farmer community and would boost the country's economic growth. Insect pests are the major constraint in getting maximum productivity. Globally more than 20,000 species of pests have been discovered, which are responsible for causing loss to one third of the agricultural production annually. This loss was estimated to be equivalent to US$ one billion. There is a growing concern on the lethal pesticides being used in our day-to-day foods and major crops, which harmfully affect the health of farmers and pollute water, soil and environment. Neem has established its properties as pesticide, insecticide, crop protector, growth regulator, repellant, anti-feedant etc. In Integrated Pest Management (IPM), synthetic insecticides are being used at a large scale and their adverse effects on soil, pest resurgence, pest resistance to these pesticides, water, soil and environmental pollution have caused serious concern. Thus the need for finding safe, natural and organic alternative to replace synthetic pesticides has become very urgent, which may be economical, environment friendly, easily available and effective in controlling the pests and at the same time may not be injurious to the health of farmers. The current use of pesticides in Pakistan amounts to 130,000 tons, 90 percent of which is used on cotton, rice, fruits and vegetables.

The requirement of WTO to provide contamination free commodities in local and international markets have made it necessary for us to pay more attention to organic and bio-pesticides to replace chemical pesticides.

I) AS ANTIFEEDANT

Neem was determined as an antifeedant against desert locust first in the year 1962. The antifeedant effects of its various extracts have been observed and established against tobacco caterpillar. Antifeedant activity of Neem products against brinjal leaf beetle on potato brinjal and cabbage butterfly on cabbage has been observed as well as against leaf folder in rice crop, rice skipper and ear-cutting caterpillar and against white backed plant hopper and grain pod borer. Its products are being usefully used as bacterial and anti-viral from ancient times.

II) AS REPELLANT : Studies have shown that a Neem compound is a more effective insect repellant than the widely used DEET. Often water management with Neem to control vectors of Japanese encephalitis has shown a victory of Neem over DDT.

III)NEEM AS PRESERVATIVE

Keeping Neem leaves in corn, rice, wheat, cotton and clothes make them safe from all types of insects.

IV) EFFECTS OF APPLICATION OF DIFFERENT NEEM PRODUCTS : Neem oil, kernel powder, leaf extract, Neem cake and certain commercial formulae such as neemark and magocide reduce the severity of various diseases in plants, trees and crops. For controlling citrus canker and enhancing plant growth Neem cake application is useful and effective. The use of leaf extract, kernel extract, cake, etc. reduce the bacterial activity in rice and chili crops. For controlling yellow dwarf of rice and sesame phyllody, the application of leaves extract is very effective. The use of Neem oil reduces the development of yellow mosaic in bean, infectivity of virus as well as its transmission and its incubation period in rice and ring mosaic in groundnut. Similarly, leaf extract is used to inhibit the spinach mosaic virus.

V) FROM SAFETY POINT OF VIEW

Neem extracts have been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use on food products. These have bee found non-toxic for birds, beneficial insects, human beings and animals. For several thousands years, Neem has been used by hundreds of millions of people and no hazards have been documented for normal dosages.

VI) COTTON PEST MANAGEMENT

Cotton is the most important cash crop in Pakistan and India. As per estimates, cotton and cotton products contribute to 68 percent of our national exports. Besides, cotton also contributes 20 percent to the country's economy through its consumption within the country. However, the yield of cotton crop per acre in Pakistan is much lower than most of other countries of the world. One major reason is that cotton is grown and developed in the country during the monsoon season when there are frequent rainfalls, which result in the attack of a number of pest species on this crop. Having failed to adequately make an effective pest management by using synthetic chemicals and sprays as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, now eco-friendly products are being sought for to control the situation. The focus is now on having botanical and microbial pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in IPM. Neem for that matter has attracted a great attention because of its effective biological activity and extracts of different parts of Neem like bark, leaves and kernel in water and organic solvents have proven useful against insect pests of cotton as antifeedant, ovipositional and growth retardant and repellant. These products and extracts have even toxic effect against pests. The residue of Neem cake applied to previous crops suppresses most of the pathogenic fungi in succeeding crops.

VII) NEEM CAKE AS FERTILIZER AND AN EFFECTIVE

supplement to fertilizer : Neem cake has wonderfully favourable effect and influence on the yields of crops like rice, wheat, sugarcane, potato, cotton and other crops. If Neem cake coated urea is provided, losses of nitrogen fertilizers in the field can be reduced in all rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, potato, finger-millet, Japanese mint crops etc. Neem cake is a cheap botanic fertilizer, which is easily available. It is used in soil amendments and improvement. Its use helps in three different ways:-

Changes the physio-chemical properties of the land favourably to the growth of useful micro-flora and inhibits harmful nematodes, 2) Toxin produced during decomposition is directly toxic to nematodes and 3) As a manure in boosting crop roots and shooting up growth is wonderful.

Neem cake is an excellent organic fertilizer and is several times rich in plant nutrients as compared to other manures and fertilizers. It is also an effective soil conditioner. Its leaves and twigs are rich in plant nutrients. It is, therefore, usefully used as mulch and manure. Neem oil is superior to Neem cake in reducing volatilization losses of ammonia.

RESEARCH

Research work in laboratories and green-houses is going on in different countries, especially in the Western countries on Neem and its products. Reportedly PCISR Lahore and Karachi have also been working on it, while our neighbouring country India has already published several books on Neem and prepared commercial products for the benefit of farmers and common man. Our laboratories, botanists, forest researchers, agriculturists, pharmacists, environmentalists and eco-scientists should come forward make a full-fledged research in the national interest. Forest department must launch a campaign to grow more and more Neem trees in their forests and also popularize this plant in rural areas and motivate Pakistanis to grow this plant in lawns and compounds of their houses for the benefit of agriculture sector and common man. Neem has also got therapeutic values, which may be discussed in another article.

A lot of research work needs to be carried out in Pakistan and the results achieved on this subject should be conveyed through media and extension service for the benefit of farmers and general public.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has recently called upon farmers and cotton ginners to supply pollution/contamination free cotton and has also declared to give special premium under the "Clean Cotton Programme". This programme is being launched by the Ministry of Textile Industry. If Neem and its effective products are used instead of chemical pesticides this programme would prove a real success in achieving the targets set out by the government provided adequate extension service is given to farmers for application on cotton and picking, collection and storage of cotton keeping all the necessary safety measures in view. We would be able to produce organic cotton with the application of Neem products and other herbal and microbial pesticides, which will bring bonanza to the country.