The story of rats, famine and political upheaval has come to bite Mizoram | Popgen Tech
Bamboo flowers cause friction because, according to local tradition, the high nutritive value of bamboo seeds increases the fertility of rodents; this in turn can lead to a famine
The long historical connection between rats, hunger and the Mizo National Front (MNF) seems to be haunting Mizoram’s ruling party as it prepares for next year’s elections.
The state is afraid to once again fixate on a cyclical ecological phenomenon that causes a sudden increase in the population of rodents, which in turn destroys crops.
Bamboo flower sugar
According to Mizoram’s agriculture department, more than 572 hectares of paddy in nine of the state’s 11 districts are currently affected by rodent attacks. Director of Agriculture James Lalsiamliana said the rodent invasion started around August this year due to the flowering of bamboo species. Dendrocalamus longispathus, locally called Rawnal.
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The flowering cycle of the bamboo grass varies from species to species. Some species flower only once every 40 to 50 years. This cycle is called Mautam in the local language. There are some other variants such as Rawnal flowers occasionally. The flowers of this species are called Thingtam.
Around 20 species of bamboo grow in Mizoram, covering about 57 percent of the state’s geographical area, according to data from the forest department.
Born for rats, hungry for men
This abundant natural resource is both a boon and a bane for the state.
Rats feed on the flower and the seeds. According to local traditions, the high nutritive value of bamboo seeds increases the fertility of rats. The theory that bamboo flowers invariably lead to inflation in the rat population is not scientifically proven, though.
A boom in the rat population has triggered several famines and famine-like situations in the state in recorded history. Recorded cases of Mautam-induced famine were observed in 1864, 1910-12, 1958-59, and 2007-08. Thingtam led to famine in Mizoram in 1880-84, 1928-29, and 1976-77.
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Famines due to Mautam and Thingtam occur alternately, with a gap of 18 years between a Mautam and a Thingtam, and a gap of 30 years between a Thingtam and a Mautam. The state last witnessed a famine-like situation due to Mautam in 2007-08. According to the model, a Thingtam is likely to arrive in 2025-26.
The director of agriculture said that the rodent epidemic the state is currently witnessing is a first sign of Thingtam. It has already affected several farmers in 114 villages across the affected districts, Lalsiamliana added.
Mamit and Lunglei are the most affected districts. In Mimit, Lalsiamliana said, 255.7 hectares of paddy in 19 villages and in Lunglei 198 hectares in 28 villages were attacked by rats.
The agriculture officer said that all paddies in Mualthuam North in Lunglei district and Tuirum village in Mamit district were completely destroyed by rats.
Factor in politics
The famine situation caused by Mautam became a major election issue in the December 2008 Mizoram elections which the MNF lost.
This time again, the MNF government led by militant-turned-politician Zoramthanga is facing a similar threat.
To prevent a repeat of 2008, the MNF government in the state has gone to great lengths to provide rodenticides to farmers in all districts and educate them about mass rat poisoning.
MNF is a product of famine in a way, well aware of the important role the calamity played in shaping the political history of the state.
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The MNF, under the leadership of the legendary Laldenga, took up arms in response to the alleged negligence of the Indian government in tackling the famine caused by Mautam in 1958.
Laldenga initially formed the Mizo National Famine Front (MNFF) to provide relief to Mizo people affected by the famine. In 1961, it became the MNF and organized a two-decade insurgency that culminated in the signing of the Mizo Peace Accords in 1986.
After the peace accord, the MNF evolved into a political party and Laldenga became the first chief minister of the newly created state of Mizoram.