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Bamboo blossoms and fruit. Image source: http://www.ias.ac.in

Background

The bamboo species Melocanna baccifera grows over a large area of Northeast India, primarily in the states of Mizoram and Manipur. It blooms approximately every 48 years, resulting in a human tragedy coinciding with the flowering of this species. Bamboo blossoms produce a fruit packed with protein and other nutrients. Rats feed on the fruits and seeds, and their population increases. After the supply of bamboo seeds and fruits are exhausted, the rats turn to human food sources – invade farms and villages devouring all the crops, and food stored in granaries, resulting in famine. Historically, this phenomenon has lasted for about 3 years, till the rats run out of food. It costs the lives and livelihood of thousands of people. The locals call it ‘Mautam’  or ‘Bamboo death’.  Recently it occurred between 2005 and 2007.

Scheme

The Government set up a committee to address all possible issues relating to the imminent bamboo flowering  or ‘Mautam’ including, but not limited to destruction of crops, epidemiological imbalance leading to increased risk of infection or outbreak of rodent borne-diseases. An action plan earmarked by a Rs 566 crore budget was initiated by the Government of  Mizoram to face the threat and provide relief to affected communities. Called the Bamboo Flowering & Famine Combat Scheme (BAFFACOS), the action plan spread across 14 government departments such as  food and civil supplies, agriculture, transport, health and horticulture.

Impact

A small percentage of the rural population has definitely benefited from implementation of BAFFACOS. However, several irregularities in the use of funds prompted the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India to investigate the BAFFACOS scheme. The CAG recently released a report on the abysmal implementation of the Bamboo Flowering and Famine Combat Scheme (BAFFACOS) during the cyclic flowering of bamboo that occurred in Mizoram during 2007-2008.  Here are some excerpts from the report:

  • Departments using the BAFFACOS fund diverted and misused the allocations to the tune of Rs 23.08 crore by using it for some other purposes having no link with combating the rodent menace and mitigating the sufferings of farmers in the state.
  • The poor extraction of bamboo resulted in the loss of Rs 226 crore to the state exchequer.
  • The state environment and forests department neither took any effort to regenerate bamboo in the affected areas nor took any action to raise the plantations of new species having different flowering cycles to avoid negative effects of flowering.

Rat feeding on bamboo seeds. Image source: http://www.pbs.org

As a result, rodents continued to damage vegetables, fruit and rice cultivation in low-lying areas to the tune of almost 82.88 per cent of cropping areas in the state. Hunger claimed the lives of numerous people.

Further reading resources

Complete text of the BAFFACOS plan can be found here.

Complete report of the Comptroller and Audit General (CAG) of India can be found on the link below.

www.cag.gov.in/html/cag_reports/mizoram/rep_2009/civil_chap1.pdf

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