The forests of the state of Mizoram in northeast India are being invaded by rats attracted by the fruits of rare type of wild bamboo. In areas where they have devoured all the fruits, the rats are now eating farmers’ crops, rice in particular.
Experts explain that the rich protein content of the bamboo fruits increases the rats’ reproductive power, and as a result the population of the rodents is soaring.
Bamboo grows wild in 6,000 sq km of Mizoram’s total geographical area of 21,000 sq km. The state, which borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar, harvests 40 percent of India’s 80-million-tonne annual bamboo crop.
‘Our drive to kill the rats covers 150 villages across the state, and so far villagers have killed around 200,000 rodents using poison and locally made traps,’ said James Lalsiamliana, plant protection officer in Aizawl, the state capital.
The Mizoram agriculture minister H. Rammawi said that ‘The rare phenomenon of bamboo flowering is a cyclical one and occurs every 48 years and so 2007 is the year when a famine is going to hit the state’.
The last time the bamboo flowered was in 1959, when rats devastated paddy fields across the region, causing severe food shortages. Historical accounts say Mizoram recorded a famine in 1862 and again in 1911 after the state witnessed similar bamboo flowerings.
The 1959 famine triggered separatist insurgencies in the region, with the legendary guerrilla leader Laldenga forming the Mizo Famine Front, which ultimately gave rise to the Mizo National Front, one of India’s most organized rebel armies.
The attack by the rats comes at a time when vegetables in several villages in the state are being devastated by giant snails. ‘We are taking the matter seriously after reports of snails in large numbers destroying vast tracts of green vegetables cultivated by farmers,’ said James Lalsiamliana.
‘Community leaders are organizing mass killing of snails in the area to prevent further loss of their produce,’ he added. ‘We have asked the locals to clean the surroundings and destroy the snails as it has a tendency to multiply rapidly,’
Indo-Asian News Service