Rodents ravage 177 villages in Mizoram

Aizawl, Sep 26 (IANS) Thousands of rats have destroyed rice fields in Mizoram, fuelling fears of a famine in the region.

“At least 177 villages have been ravaged by armies of rats in the state this year. About 70 villages that bore the brunt have nothing left to harvest now,” according to Mizoram Agriculture Minister H. Rammawi.

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At least 65 villages have lost half the harvest while 42 villages have experienced low intensity destruction.

Mizoram, with about one million people, is dependent on agriculture. Rice and vegetables are the dominant crops.

“In a single night the rodents can clip the ears from every rice stalk in a field,” said James Lalsiamliana, plant protection officer of the state’s agriculture department and head of the rodent control cell.

Reports of rats destroying farmlands follows vast forests of bamboo bursting into flower in many parts of the state. When bamboo flowering takes place, the rat population shoots up, leading to an invasion of granaries and paddy fields.

The Mizoram government has warned that a famine is going to hit the mountainous state.

The phenomenon of bamboo flowering occurs every 48 years.

According to tribal legends, when bamboo flowers, famine, death and destruction follow. Behind the superstition probably lies some truth as blooming bamboo does trigger a rodent invasion that feeds on stored food.

“There is an alarming increase in rat population that has devoured not only paddy but also maize and other crops. During last year’s harvest when bamboo flowering began in the eastern part of the state, more than 60 villages lost their entire crop,” Lalsiamliana said.

In 1958-59, a famine in Mizoram resulted in the death of at least 100 people, besides causing heavy loss to human property and crops. The famine, locally known as Mautam, broke out after bamboo flowering.

Historical accounts say Mizoram recorded a similar famine in 1862 and again in 1911 following similar bamboo flowerings.

“The state will now have to arrange financial support for these areas,” said Lalsiamliana. The agriculture department has projected a minimal 80 percent crop destruction out of the total projected harvest across Mizoram this year.