Mizoram facing famine, rats devour rice and maize

July 27th, 2008 - 2:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Aizawl, July 27 (IANS) After feasting on paddy in the fields and inside granaries, armies of rodents in Mizoram have started targeting maize, devouring the crop by the tonne and leading to an acute food shortage, officials and aid agencies said. The paddy harvest in the state was 736,253 quintals in 2005. It came down to 196,535 quintals in 2006 and just about 85,000 quintals in 2007 due to rats devouring the crops,” Mizoram Agriculture Minister H. Rammawi told IANS Sunday.

The Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has said Mizoram was facing a famine after rats destroyed most of the rice crop in the state.

“Aid agencies have reported that many people have been forced onto a diet of wild roots, yam and sweet potatoes,” the institute stated in its quarterly journal Rice Today published last week.

IRRI said the rodent population increased manifold after the flowering of a native species of bamboo, an event that occurs once every 50 years.

Rats have played havoc with the maize harvest, devouring it during the night. This is sad news for the farmers hit by the rat menace, an official in the state agriculture department said.

Official statistics say nearly 150,000 agrarian families have been hit by the rat menace in Mizoram.

“There is scarcity of food and people are unable to get two meals a day. Rice being the staple food, Mizoram is facing a real danger of starvation deaths in the very near future,” said S. Sailo, a church leader.

Bamboo flowering and the subsequent invasion by rats on granaries and paddy fields in the region is a phenomenon that signals an impending catastrophe or a famine.

According to tribal legend, when bamboo flowers, famine, death and destruction follow. Behind the superstition lies some scientific truth, as blooming bamboo triggers an invasion of rats that eat away food supplies.

Rats multiply at a very rapid pace after eating the protein-rich seeds that appear soon after bamboo flowering, said James Lalsiamliana, an expert. When the seeds are exhausted, armies of rats chomp their way through rice and potato crops and granaries, causing a famine.

Bamboo grows wild in 6,000 sq km of Mizoram’s total geographical area of 21,000 sq km with the state, bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar, harvesting 40 percent of India’s 80-million-tonne annual bamboo crop.

In 1958-59, a famine in Mizoram resulted in the death of at least 100 people, besides heavy loss to human property and crops.

The famine, locally known as Mautam, broke out after the state witnessed the rare phenomenon of bamboo flowering and an increase in rodent population that started emptying granaries and destroying paddy fields.

Historical accounts say Mizoram recorded a famine in 1862 and again in 1911 after the state experienced similar bamboo flowerings.

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