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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Bamboo puts India on famine alert
The rat population grows on the bamboo - and then turns to human food
The Indian state of Mizoram is preparing itself for a mass flowering of bamboo - which has the potential to devastate the area.

The bamboo only flowers once every 50 years. When it last did so, in the 1950s, the abundance of seeds led to a plague of rats - which in turn led to widespread famine and thousands of deaths in the region.

Indian bamboo expert Professor MP Ranjan told BBC World Service's Outlook programme that the wave of flowering is expected again in the next two years, and potential disaster looms.

"Mizoram has one dominant species of bamboo across much of the state. When this flowers, it produces a large amount of fruit," Dr Ranjan explained.

"Last time it happened, in the late 50s, there was a resultant famine, because the fruit is very delicious for the rodents - and there was a rapid increase in the rodent population at that time.

"They attacked fields and attacked food supplies. The resultant famine was quite disastrous, and that is what is being expected."

Bamboo culture

The flowering produces so much fruit that it causes an explosion in the rat population.

However the flowers soon die, leaving the rats without abundant food from the bamboo. At this point, they begin attacking human crops and food stores.

Dr Ranjan added that communication had improved a lot in 50 years, so it was likely that the number of people affected would not be as high.

But he also warned that the type of bamboo was as crucial a part of life in the region as ever, and that as a result vast amounts of the state were covered in it.

Temporary bamboo house in India
Bamboo is often used in housing
"It is a living bamboo culture," he said

"Bamboo is used for almost everything over there - their housing, their products, their livelihood supplies.

"The answer is not to get bamboo out of there and replace it with something else, because it's so culturally tied up with the lives of the people there."

He said that while he did not have "all the answers," there had been meetings at a high level to discuss the potential crisis.

And people have now been given permission to collect the bamboo and take it out.

"But that may not be the complete answer, because there is so much bamboo there and I cannot imagine how anybody could possibly transport that volume of bamboo out of there," he added.

The bamboo is produced from an underground stem. Shortly after flowering - which it does in waves - it dies.

The plant then has to grow again from seed.

Dr Ranjan's fellow expert, Dr Erik Bo, stressed the impossibility of managing the bamboo.

"This is going to happen, it is an act of God or whatever your belief," he said.

"They're going to flower, and they're going to die, and we know approximately when that's going to happen."

Rat boom sparks India hunger alert
04 Dec 02  |  South Asia
'Rats are a real delicacy'
22 Aug 03  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Rats threaten to engulf streets
01 Aug 02  |  UK News

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