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The Rediff Special/Sujit Chakraborty
Bamboo blossoms bring famine fear in Mizoram
October 03, 2005
Is the blooming of bamboo plants a cause for worry? If you are talking about Mizoram, then it definitely is.
The remote northeastern state witnesses gregarious flowering of bamboo plants once every 48 years. It happened in 1911 and then in 1958-59, and on both occasions the state was hit by severe famine.
Experts are predicting a flowering-famine repeat in 2007.
In Mizoram, the flowering of bamboo plants is significant as it influences a rodent outbreak, which in turn leads to famine.
Bamboo flowering gives a big boost to the rat population. After eating the forest feeds, the rodents turn their attention to paddy fields in the Jhum (shifting cultivation method being practiced by the tribal farmers in the Northeast).
The rats are not partial to paddy; they devour chilli, betel nut, cotton, chestnut fruit, millet, bamboo shoots, tobacco stem and certain grasses too.
Such rodent outbreaks at a periodic interval have also been reported from neighbouring Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
Besides India, Myanmar, Brazil and Japan also witness such periodic rodent outbreaks.
The Mizo National Front, which was at the forefront of the two-decade long insurgency triggered by the 1958-59 famine, is now at the helm of affairs and is preparing itself to counter the menace.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga led the underground movement of the MNF as its vice president.
Bamboo represents one of the largest vegetations in Mizoram and it plays a dominant feature in the state's landscape. The bamboo brakes cover about 31 per cent (6,446 sq km) of the total geographical area of 21,081 sq km.
The Mizoram government has prepared a three-pronged action plan under the project dubbed Bamboo Flowering and Famine Combat Scheme amounting to Rs 500 crore to stall the impending famine.
The comprehensive action plan has already been submitted to the central government demanding immediate sanctioning of the huge funds to combat the menace.
The central government has sanctioned an interim amount of Rs 60 crore pending a thorough examination of the detailed action plan by its experts.
The plan constitutes:
a) Early harvesting of bamboo. The government has begun cutting down all bamboo plants to be sold in different parts of the country.
b) The state has started a rodent control programme. Accordingly, Re 1 is given for each rat killed. The tail of the rat has to be brought in to earn the sum.
c) Measures for regenerating bamboo plants that have been subjected to the harmful flowering.
This apart, the federal agriculture ministry is in constant touch with the Mizoram government to effectively tackle this impending disaster.
Senior plant physiologist Mohan Rao is reportedly looking after the rodent control programme.
Additionally, the Indira Gandhi National Open University has also been approached to start a special diploma course on disaster management so as to prepare students all over the state on ways to combat the rodent menace and prevent famine like conditions.
The idea is to involve all sections of society to jointly combat the impending natural disaster.
The state government has already decided to construct a number of warehouses for storing buffer foodgrain stock in different parts of the state in the winter months.
"We are leaving no stone unturned to face the challenges ahead," Zoramthanga told rediff.com.
He will never forget the memories of the last famine, which created scarcity of food and made the life of average Mizos miserable, he said.
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