When the bamboo flowers, famine, death and destruction will soon follow, goes a traditional saying in Mizoram, the tiny hill state in north-east India. Who better than the hardy Mizos would know this, considering that theirs is probably the only land on earth where history is closely intertwined with the mysterious cycle of bamboo flowering. Back in 1959, bamboo flowering in the state set off a chain of events in the rugged hilly state that ultimately led to one of the most powerful insurgencies against the Indian union spanning over two decades.
Folklore apart, scientists say that the strange phenomena of bamboo flowering, called ‘gregarious bamboo flowering’ because the bamboo clumps flower all at the same time only once in the plants’ lifetime, wreaks ecological havoc because of two reasons. First, bamboo plants die after flowering. It will be at least some years before bamboo plants take seed again, leaving bare exposed soil – which could be disastrous in mountainous states – and also leading to food scarcity, since animals depend on bamboo plants. The second factor is that rats feed on the flowers and seeds of the dying bamboo tree. This activates a rapid birth rate among the rodents, which leads to the huge rat population feeding on agricultural crops in the fields and granaries and causes famine.
It was precisely this scenario in Mizoram in the late 1950s, when the authorities failed to respond with quick famine relief. The disillusionment and anger finally resulted in the Mizo National Famine Front, an organization created to help people get relief, changing into the Mizo National Front, an ethnic political party which involved the Mizos in a 20-year war of attrition against India which ended only in 1987 with a peace accord.
Now, the bamboo is going to flower again within the next four to five years, say experts. And this time, it’s not going to be just in Mizoram, but in the huge bamboo forested areas across the other north eastern states of Tripura, Manipur and Southern Assam, an occurrence that has attracted national and international attention as well as the concern of the authorities.
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is roping in experts, including some from the International Bamboo and Rattan Network (INBAR) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), for hectic consultations on how to handle this natural growth cycle of the humble bamboo plant which has such an extraordinary twin effect directly bearing on the socio-economic well being and a long-term ecological impact. Continue reading “When The Bamboo Flowers! 2”