Agartala, Sept. 5: Every 48 years or so, the Northeast bears witness to a bizarre natural phenomenon. At this time, a particular species of bamboo flowers, all at once, across a wide area. This mass flowering is invariably followed by a famine, caused by rats, which multiply on the abundance of seeds. This peculiar dance of life and death is called mautam.
In February 1966, mautam not only brought famine but also gave birth to Mizo insurgency. And a few years ago, history was about to repeat itself when cash rewards to rat-catchers and other measures by the state government prevented a fresh outbreak of mautam.
For centuries, bamboo plants have played a vital role in the lives of the indigenous people here. It is their staple food; they use it as construction material, in religious rituals, festivals, wedding ceremonies and even funerals. Sixteen varieties of bamboo are found in Tripura and all of them have been closely associated with the life and culture of the state’s indigenous people.
Keeping this in mind, the Tripura government has launched a bamboo mission to boost production in the state.
“Currently, Tripura needs 2.3 metric tons of bamboo annually but this requirement will more than double within the next five years. So, to cope with the growing demand, we have decided to expand bamboo cultivation to 50,000 hectares of additional land,” the director of Tripura Bamboo Mission, Pravin Agarwal, said.
More than two lakh people in Tripura are directly involved in bamboo cultivation and between April and August this year, 297 hectares were brought under bamboo cultivation thus benefiting 356 indigenous people, he said.
Bamboo also provides raw material for making handicrafts, incense sticks and clubs wielded by security personnel.
The dip in bamboo production over the past two decades can be attributed to largescale deforestation and smuggling.
“You can imagine the situation from a simple statistic: Tripura supplies 25,000 metric tonnes of raw bamboo sticks to Karnataka and other mainstream states for making agarbattis (incense sticks). This accounts for 60 per cent of the total requirement of raw bamboo sticks in the country. Unless we boost production, we will not be able to maintain our current position,” Agarwal said.
The state government will involve small and marginal indigenous farmers to cultivate the 50,000 acres earmarked for bamboo plantations.
Restriction on rubber monoculture beyond 25 per cent of a state’s land has infused a new sense of urgency in bamboo cultivation under government sponsorship.
“Bamboo cultivation can be as profitable as rubber if pursued vigorously, without any negative effect on ecology. This and the indigenous peoples’ cultural ties to bamboo has been taken into account in launching the Tripura Bamboo Mission,” said industries minister Jiten Chowdhury.
Bamboo has even made some cultural crossovers. The Bengalis of the state have eagerly adopted bamboo-based dishes like godhak and boiled and spicy bamboo shoots.