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Neem (Azadirachta indica) trees have been widely planted in many tropical and semi-arid regions around the world for decades for some pretty simple reasons.  Over-grazing and deforestation have led to worsening desertification in ecologically fragile regions like the Sahel region of Africa.  Neem trees can thrive in poor soils and with little rainfall.  They resist bush fires, insect attacks and are rarely browsed. 

Desertification in the Sahel
In the Atacora region of Benin, Neem trees are ubiquitous, providing shade, building materials, firewood, erosion control, soil fertilization and, increasingly, medicinal and agricultural products.  They are found on roadsides, in family compounds, schoolyards, fields and other public places.
neem tree

Traditional uses in the Atacora

In my extensive travels in West Africa, I’ve remarked that virtually EVERYONE chews a neem stick and brushes their teeth and gums with it for a couple of hours in the morning.  Neem’s antimicrobial properties promote oral health.  Little bundles of neem sticks are available everywhere.

neem toothbrush

Neem grows quickly and regrows readily when branches are cut.  Thus,it is a prized firewood because it is hard and long-burning.

Neem poles are often used for construction (as rafters, for example) in the Atacora because of its strength and because it resists attack by insects like termites.

Neem leaves are mixed in with grain for storage for their insect repellent effect.  Interestingly, now that Atacora Essential is pressing Neem Seeds for their oil, some of our team members have begun mixing the residual seed cake with clay to make a plaster which they apply to the interior of traditional grain storage structures.

Otammari Granary

Traditional medicine

Neem is a millenia-old medical tradition in Ayurvedic medicine on the Indian subcontinent where the species originated.  In the Atacora, Neem leaf and/or bark extract is used as a tea to fight fever associated with malaria, often in association with other botanicals. Neem leaves, fruit pulp and seed powder are mixed with water and applied to plants to fight insects, nematodes and plant diseases.  An extract is also used in bath water to sooth irritated skin and to help repel mosquitos.  Ther are no doubt many other local applications that I’m not yet aware of!

Abundant, underexploited resource

Like I said, there is a HUGE amount of Neem trees in the Atacora.  Each tree produces a HUGE amount of seeds every year.  Yes, an infinitesmal fraction are used locally, but most fall to the ground and are seen as clutter and disposed of.  For example, school kids always are charged with keeping the schoolyard clean.  They sweep up the neem seeds and burn them.  We at Atacora Essential are very aware of the value of neem oil for skin care and garden uses, and its market potential.  So, we said that we’d gladly PAY for the seeds!  Now, participating schools (and others) have a new source of revenue!  We work with school directors to apply proceeds to school lunch programs, school supplies and general educational needs.  This is part of our Fair Partnership stategy, which seeks to enhance communities by revaluing resources.

100% Pure, cold-pressed Atacora Neem Seed Oil

neem oil 1

Neem oil is gaining alot of traction in the global health and wellness industry and the organic gardening and agriculture industry.  Its skin care applications include use as a treatment for the syptoms of psoriasis, eczema, acne and dandruff, mixed in lotions, creams and soaps, or applied directly.  It is a superior antioxidant and emollient.  It can be used for fungal infections (ringworm, athlete’s foot) and parasitic infestations (scabies, lice).  It is a great ingredient in natural insect repellent formulas.  REMEMBER, Neem oil is not meant as a cure, but to assuage syptoms!

The US Environmental Protection Agency approves of neem oil for use in food production as a natural repellent and bio-insecticide for sucking and chewing insects.  It acts as an antifeedant and an antireproductive agent, but does not harm beneficial insects and worms.  It has been determined to be virtually non-toxic in the food chain; safe for animals and humans!


Upcoming posts will focus on specific uses of Atacora Neem Seed Oil for skin care and garden/horticulture uses.  I’ll also elaborate on how neem is vital to our Fair Partnership strategy.

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