Seven years ago,when the Arunachal Pradesh government introduced cultivation of large cardamom in Lower Subansiri and other adjoining districts as an alternative to jhum or slash-and-burn cultivation,the tribal families found it a new money-spinner. But this year has been suddenly a huge disaster because of the proliferation of rats,which in turn has been triggered by the gregarious flowering of some local varieties of bamboo in the past four or five months.
A sudden increase in the number of rodents in the past three or four months has devastated the cardamom fields. The crop has been almost completely damaged in villages in two circles,Pistana and Lower Subansiri, Koj Horming,agriculture development officer of Lower Subansiri district,told The Indian Express over the telephone from Ziro,the district headquarters.
While standing paddy and millet crops have been also damaged by the rodents,the loss has been heaviest in cardamom,this being a cash crop with traders from Assam paying the farmers good prices.
Traders vie with each other to purchase the raw cardamom from our farmers. The traders make a good profit out of the margin after they process the cardamom. For the farmers,who were never earlier used to selling agricultural products,large cardamom has brought valuable hard cash in the past few years, Horming said. At least 1,000 tribal families who had taken to large cardamom cultivation in the two revenue circles in Lower Subansiri district have been hit,Horming said.
The area under large cardamom cultivation in Arunachal Pradesh has shot up from about 2,700 hectares in 2005-06 to more than 12,000 hectares in 2010-11. Productivity too has increased,from 655 quintals per hectare to 891 in the past five or six years.
We have made an assessment of the loss due to the rodent attack and sent a report to the state government suggesting certain measures including providing cash relief to the affected farmers. The agriculture and forest departments on the other hand are looking into ways to tackle the increase in rodents, said Lower Subansiri deputy commissioner Taru Talo. The district authorities have estimated a total loss of about Rs 10 crore in the two circles alone.
In Itanagar,the state capital,the government is expected to come out with a relief-cum-compensation package for the affected farmers. The government had introduced various cash crops including large cardamom and other spices with the twin intention of weaning away the tribal families from the jhum or slash-and-burn practice,and enhancing the income of farm families in the far-flung villages across the Eastern Himalayan ranges.
Mizoram is one state that has a history of bamboo flowering which in turn triggers an increased fertility in rodents. The increased rodent population attacks standing crops in a big way,leading even to widespread famine in the hill state. In fact,Mizoram is visited by mautam famine triggered by gregarious flowering of bamboo once every 48 years. With several species of bamboo growing wild across the Northeast,such instances of bamboo-flowering and increase in rodent population also occur on the other states of the region.
Giving an indication of how much the Lower Subansiri farmers stand to lose,senior agriculture development officer Neelam Rika said raw large cardamom was last year fetching the farmers anywhere between Rs 150 and Rs 180 per kilogram. Those who have acquired the skills of drying and processing the cardamom get between Rs 250 and Rs 300 per kg,he said. While Lower Subansiri has been the worst-affected district,reports of crop damage has also come from the adjoining districts of Papum Pare,Kurung Kumey and Upper Subansiri.