Canadian soup for famine-hit Mizoram

August 2nd, 2008 - 11:10 am ICT by IANS  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Aizawl, Aug 2 (IANS) A Canadian non-profit organisation has provided a large consignment of dehydrated soup mixes for people in the northeastern state of Mizoram, currently hit by a famine-like situation, local church leaders said Saturday. A total of 160 quintals of vegetable soup mixes arrived earlier this week from the Fraser Valley Gleaners, a volunteer organisation that collects produce from local farms and hothouses and sends it worldwide to help alleviate hunger in developing countries.

“The soup mixes would be distributed among people in need of food in famine hit areas of the state,” P. Sailo, a Baptist church leader, told IANS. The Mizoram Baptist Church and the Central Young Mizo Association will distribute the dehydrated soup mixes.

Mizoram, with a population of little under a million people, is hit by a famine like situation with armies of rats feasting on paddy in the fields and inside granaries, besides devouring maize and other agricultural crops in large parts of the mountainous state bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh.

“The paddy harvest in the state came down from 736,253 quintals in 2005 to just about 85,000 quintals in 2007 with rats devouring the crops,” Mizoram Agriculture Minister H. Rammawi said.

A team of experts from ActionAid, an international anti-poverty agency, recently visited Mizoram to assess the damage caused to the state’s agriculture by the army of rodents.

“Hundreds of families are facing food shortages. Some are barely eking out one meal a day. Crops including rice, maize and vegetables have been wiped out as flowering of bamboo in the region caused an explosion of rodent population,” a report by ActionAid said.

The Manila-based International Rice Research Institute also said Mizoram was facing 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.

The minister said reports of rats destroying farmlands follows vast forests of bamboo bursting into flower in many parts of the state.

“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,” the minister told IANS.

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

“There is scarcity of food with people 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,” the church leader said.

According to tribal legend, when bamboo flowers, famine, death and destruction follow. Scientists have confirmed that the blooming of bamboo flowers - a once-in-50-years phenomenon for most bamboo species.

“Rats multiply at a very rapid pace after eating the protein-rich seeds that appear soon after bamboo flowering,” James Lalsiamliana, an agriculture scientist, said.

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. The state, bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar, harvests 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 witnessed similar bamboo flowerings.

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