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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 December 2007, 18:27 GMT
Plague of rats hits Indian state
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Rat in Mizoram
The rat plague is expected twice a century
The government in India's north-eastern state of Mizoram has decided to increase wages and food grain supplies to villagers hit by a plague of rats.

The state's heavy flowering bamboo crops attract hordes of rats, a phenomenon known locally as Mautam.

Not only do the rats thrive on the bamboo flowers, they also then go on to destroy the farmers' crops.

The Mizoram council of ministers has doubled daily wage rates so that villagers can cope with food shortages.

Wanton destruction

"We have also decided to increase the weekly allotment of rice to the villagers so that they have enough to eat," Mizoram Home Minister Tony Tawnluia said after a meeting of the council.

Map

Every adult villager is now getting 2kg of rice per week - with minors receiving half that amount.

"We have ordered the district officials to immediately increase the wage rates and food grain supply," Mr Tawnluia said.

Mizoram has been reeling under an acute shortage of food grain because of the wanton destruction of crops by rodents.

The rat population has multiplied several times because of the abundance of food created by the flowering of bamboo crops.

The food crisis has been made worse by the massive destruction caused by unprecedented monsoon downpours this year, which damaged hundreds of homes, roads, fish ponds and paddy fields.

The state government has declared Mizoram a "disaster area", and has asked the central government for extra cash to mitigate the suffering of the people.

Most Mizo farmers have not sowed rice or corn this year, fearful that the rats would eat all their crops.

'Damage control'

Plant Protection Officer James Lalsiamliana says that Mautam struck the Mizo Hills in 1910-11 and again in 1958-59. He says that it is now back with a vengeance.

"It will affect more than 30% of Mizoram's land area and much of the area where crops are grown," he said.

"It cannot be stopped, we can only do damage control."

A report by India's forest and environment ministry predicts that at least 5,100 sq km of Mizoram's forest area (out of a total of 6,446 sq km of forest) will be affected by the Mautam in 2007.

Collecting rat tails
Gathering the rat tails together - each one is worth one rupee

More than half of Mizoram's population of nearly 900,000 people are farmers.

The Mizoram agriculture department anticipates a crop shortfall of at least 75% in 2007-2008 because of farmers not planting.

Desperate to control the rising rat population, the state government announced a reward of one rupee for every rat killed.

During 2006 alone more than 200,000 rats were killed. The killing continues but the rats keep coming in hordes.

Mr Lalsiamliana told the BBC 1.2 m rats have been killed in Mizoram since 1 October and the government is now paying two rupees for each rat-tail.

It was in October 2005 that the initial heavy flowering of the bamboo was first noticed at Chawngtlai bamboo forest in the southern district of Champhai.

It then spread rapidly in 2006 and the situation is now worsening.



SEE ALSO
Bracing for a famine caused by rats
24 Apr 07 |  South Asia
Bamboo puts India on famine alert
11 Oct 04 |  South Asia
Rat boom sparks India hunger alert
04 Dec 02 |  South Asia

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