Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Fear of famine stalks Mizoram with the completion of bamboo flowering and resultant depletion of the stock of staple diet of the rodent population which could now turn to paddy in a big way. Even octogenarian local agriculture and pest scientist C Rokhuma, who is known as ‘Pied Piper of Mizoram’, expressed helplessness as the government, while initiating numerous measures to combat the coming famine, neglected the killing of rats.
According to Rokhuma and other village elders, who had witnessed the last Mautam famine half a century before, the key to mitigate the impact of famine is to kill as many rats as possible. Mautam in Mizo language means ‘death of the bamboos’ (Mau means bamboo and tam means death) and 6,000 sq km of Mizoram's total area of 21,087 sq km is covered with bamboo and the bamboo growing stock in the state is estimated at a staggering 25.26 million tonnes.
Reports of outbreak of caterpillars, hemipteran bug and grasshoppers, regarded as harbinger of the impending famine, have been pouring in from different parts of the state since 2004. Leaf-rolling caterpillars and grasshoppers can cause extensive damage to paddy. Male rats feed on their weak young ones but with an alternative meal (bamboo seeds) readily available, they leave their babies alone and the rodent population increased manifold, Rokhuma said.
Scientific studies say gregarious flowering of bamboo brings famine. “The gregarious flowering of bamboo produces large quantity of seeds which in turn causes sudden population explosion of rats,” a report said.
“However, the quantity of seeds available for rats diminishes soon on the germination of seeds after the rains. The resultant short supply of bamboo seeds on the one hand and a large population of rats on the other makes rats head towards farmlands causing widespread loss to the crops.”
James Lalsiamliana, a scientist in the state agriculture department, told PTI that caterpillars rolled paddy leaves damaging the chlorophyll and could result in mass crop failure where swarms of the leaf rollers attack large areas.
The bamboo flowering has completed in the eastern and north-eastern parts of the state where population of rats was already witnessed, he said adding rats were reported to have attacked paddy stems in Champhai district. “Bamboo not only flowered in the area, but sprouts have come up after the seeds fell and germinated on the grounds,” Lalsiamliana said.
He, however, added that in the western parts sporadic flowering of bamboo was witnessed. Lalsiamliana also said that “more rats means more mouths, and thus their only alternative is to attack the paddy fields and granaries.”
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