Rat attack

Rat attack


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Rat eating rice crops

A rat destroying rice crops.

Watch Watch the Rat Attack video (1 min)

Neil McCarthy journeys deep into the remote hills of North East India where millions of rats are invading and decimating crops - as they do twice a century with the flowering of bamboo - leaving the spectre of famine and strong anti-government sentiment in their wake.

The sight of the flowering of bamboo, which occurs only every 50 years, should be a wondrous example of one of the mysteries of nature. Instead, tribesmen in India's far eastern state of Mizoram are shuddering, especially those old enough to remember the last flowering in 1958.

As the flowers burst, hordes of rats explode into the state in a phenomenon known as the Mautam, feeding and breeding, on the bamboo flower. This is the curse of the bamboo cycle.

The rustling of thousands of foraging and breeding rats in the jungle is about to take an alarming turn. When the bamboo flower dies and the rice season commences, scurrying plagues will descend into the paddy fields destroying crop after crop of farmland in this poor agricultural society.

It's feared they will bring with them Mizo's worst recurring nightmare: famine. Rats on this proportion can destroy a village's paddy overnight and when the crops are gone - but the feeding frenzy continues - they may turn to the villages and homes.

Bamboo is central to Mizo life, it is used for housing, irrigation, furniture, food and much of Mizo folklore emphasizes the psychological impact of the bamboo cycle.

Neil McCarthy and farmers

Neil with the farmers who are fighting the plague.

Mizo farmers are being told to diversify but schemes have not effectively been put in place. By the end of this year 75% of the state's crops will have been affected as the panic and losses spread exponentially; desperate peasants are resigned to their fate - many are refusing to even plant their crops knowing they will be destroyed.

The rats are swarming deeper into the state and the political leaders are on edge. They know only too well the fallout from this unstoppable rodent plague. Back in the 1950's the central government dismissed local forecasts as superstitious raving and was unprepared to provide relief and a famine gripped the region.

The Mizo National Front, was formed to fight for independence from the Indian government - due to its negligence during the last famine - triggering a twenty year insurgency. The same rebel fighters are now in power in Mizoram.

Its leaders fed on the anger of their starving people and know the true cost of the Mautam but is history repeating itself? Alarms have been sounded by the Mizoram government that there are rice shortages on the way.

In his documentary Neil McCarthy pieces together the story of this recurring natural disaster with its political repercussions and human victims. A story of rats, famine and insurrection from the 1950's to present day.

First broadcast on October 31 2008.

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