Neem in Reforestation and Agroforestry
Neem is a very valuable forestry species in India and Africa and is also
becoming popular in Tropical America, the middle east countries and in Australia.
Being a hardy, multipurpose tree, it is ideal for reforestation programs
and for rehabilitating degraded, semiarid and arid lands. During a severe
drought in Tamil Nadu State in June-July 1987, it was witnessed that neem
grew luxuriantly, while other vegetation dried up.
Neem is useful as windbreaks and in areas of low rainfall and high windspeed.
In the Majjia Valley in Niger, over 500 km of windbreaks comprised of double
rows of neem trees have been planted to protect millet crops which resulted
in a 20% increase in grain yield (Benge 1989).
Neem, windbreaks on a smaller scale have also been grown along sisal plantations
in coastal Kenya. Large scale planting of neem has been initiated in the
Kwimba Afforestation Scheme in Tanzania.
In countries from Somalia to Mauritiania, neem has been used for halting
the spread of the Sahara desert. Also, neem is a preferred tree along avenues,
in markets, and near homesteads because of the shade it provides. However,
neem is best planted in mixed stands.
It was probably no coincidence that Emperor Ashoka, the great ruler of ancient
India, in the 3rd century BC, commanded that the neem be planted along the
royal highway and roads along with other perennials-tamarind, Tamarindus
indica and mahua, Madhuca longifolia var. latifolia. Neem has all the good
characters for various social forestry programs.
Neem is an excellent tree for silvipastoral system involving production
of forage grasses and legumes. But according to some reports (Radwanski
and Wickens 1981), neem cannot be grown among agricultural crops due to
its aggressive habit.
Others say that neem can be planted in combination with fruit cultures and
crops such as sesame, cotton, hemp, peanuts, beans, sorghum, cassava, etc.,
particularly when neem trees are still young. The neem tree can be lopped
to reduce shading and to provide fodder and mulch.
Recent advances in tissue culture and biotechnology should make it possible
to select neem phenotypes with desirable height and stature for use in intercropping
and various agroforestry systems. The alleloopathic effects of neem on crops,
if any, need to be investigated.