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India-Drought /WRD/

Threat of drought forces tribe to cut down on rice beer in India

Seppa, Arunachal Pradesh, Aug 18 -- Authorities in India's remote northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh have asked tribal people to cut down on brewing rice beer and save food grains to escape a famine that is looming large over the region, reports IRNA correspondent.

"We have made a public appeal asking people to minimize fermenting rice beer and instead stock food grains for survival in the wake of a famine,"Arunachal Pradesh Agriculture Minister Tsering Gyurme told IRNA by telephone from state capital Itanagar.

The warning of a famine comes amid armies of rats plundering agriculture fields, granaries, and orchards.

"Rats in hundreds are destroying paddy fields, fruit farms, and even entering homes. The situation is alarming," the minister said.

As part of a government disaster management plan, authorities have come up with certain ingenious ways to tackle the rat menace with areas like the East Kameng district being the worst hit.

Kill a rat and get a cash reward of two rupees is the latest in a series of anti-rodent measures by the government - a scheme that has become very popular in Seppa, the headquarters of the East Kameng district, 160 kilometers east of the state capital.

"We are motivating villagers to kill rats and bring the tail as evidence to local authorities. We are awarding two rupees per rat killed," Bidol Tayeng, district magistrate of East Kameng said.

District authorities were yet to compile figures of how many rats were killed so far under the scheme.

Tai Pagang, a local youth, said he had killed 280 rats in the past week.

"I got the money immediately on producing the rat tails to the authorities," Pagang said.

According to preliminary estimates, up to 30 percent of the paddy cultivation in the district has been damaged by rats since the invasion began last month.

"I am doomed with at least half of my one acre rice cultivation gobbled by rats in just two nights," said T. Lambung, a peasant.

The northeast have a long history of rats plundering granaries and feasting on rice fields -- an event many locals believe signals an impending catastrophe.

"Such unusual signs of rats destroying food grains on a large scale are a bad omen. It signals the onset of a great famine, followed by deaths and destruction," the minister said.

The fear of a famine sweeping the state has heightened with signs that vast tracts of bamboo forest are flowering "It is not a myth or any superstitious belief to think that bamboo flowering signals famine. It is stark reality and the region had experienced and witnessed an outbreak of famine in the past under similar
circumstances," the minister said.

Bamboo, a giant tropical grass with hollow stems, does not normally flower.

Agriculture scientists say the bamboo flowers increase the fertility of the rats. When this unusual phenomenon takes place, the rodent population goes up.

The rats go berserk, feasting on everything that comes their way.

The superstitious beliefs of the locals may have some support in ground realities.

In 1958-59, a famine in the state of Mizoram resulted in the death of at least 100 people, besides heavy loss of human property and crops.

The famine 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.

Meanwhile, local villagers in Arunachal Pradesh were doing brisk business selling rats in the markets - a pair of giant rodents fetching them 10 rupees.

"Rat meat is very tasty as it is oily in nature. Rat meat boiled in wild herbs or barbecued is a prized delicacy here," Raso Tana, a school teacher in Seppa, said.

News sent: 01:44 Thursday August 18, 2005 Print