updated 11/16/2006 4:49:10 PM ET 2006-11-16T21:49:10

A rare flowering of wild bamboo plants has caused the rat population to explode in northeastern India, raising fears of famine as the rodents rampage through rice paddies, officials said Thursday.

An alert has been declared in Mizoram state, with authorities supplying rat poison free to nearly 10,000 farmers and paying them to make bamboo traps, said local Agriculture Minister H. Rammawi.

“The situation in Mizoram state is alarming. Farmers are killing rats in tons after we directed them to do so using poison or locally made traps,” Rammawi told The Associated Press.

The rat population is growing rapidly as they feast on flowering wild bamboo plants — a phenomenon that usually occurs roughly every 50 years, Rammawi said. The last time the bamboo flowered in the region, in 1959, a famine ensured, he said.

“Whenever the rare bamboo flowering occurs, the rats multiply in great numbers as they feed on these flowers and then go on rampaging the crops and granaries,” said C. Rokhuma, a community leader.

State authorities have been supplying rat poison free to nearly 10,000 farmers and providing them cash to make bamboo traps, the minister said.

“Rats poisoned to death are buried by the villagers, while those trapped are being eaten by some of them,” said James Lalsiamliana, the head of Mizoram’s Rodent Control Cell.

The state government has invited experts from Australia, Canada and Japan to study the bamboo flowering and to devise methods to control the rat population.

Ten Japanese experts are doing research on the rare variety of bamboo to find out why it flowers after a gap of nearly five decades, Lalsiamliana said.

Australian and Canadian experts have helped identify 14 species of rodents found in Mizoram, although up to 30 different species are believed to exist in the state.

Mizoram, a state of less than 2 million people, borders Myanmar and Bangladesh.

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