Agriculture officials in Tsirang say farmers were reluctant to use chemicals against rats that damaged crops in the dzongkhag this year.

Although officials agree that total damage may not have been prevented, it could have controlled the rodent population to some extent.

On hearing the outbreak first in Dagana, agriculture officials in Tsirang were prepared with zinc phosphate to control crop damage, officials said.

Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Dorji Gyeltshen, said assuming that farmers would report the case and need control measures, about 10kg of zinc phosphate was mobilised to the 12 gewogs. “We stocked the chemical in September itself but farmers are reluctant to use it,” he said.

He said instead farmers resorted to local measures such as sprinkling pumpkin pieces to control rats eating crops. “Several farmers who used zinc phosphate reported it was effective in controlling rats from damaging crops.”

Rats damaging paddy was first reported in several gewogs in Dagana, then in Tsirang and Sarpang’s Chudzom gewogs. Farmers in these dzongkhags lost at least 20-30 percent of their crops to rodents this year.

Farmers say the rat population increased this year. Reddish black and huge rats are found on the highways at night, often overrun by vehicles.

One of the farmers in Gosarling gewog, Sonam, 50, in an earlier interview said that she used local measure to divert rats instead of chemical because of religious sentiments. “It is sinful to use chemicals and kills rats, “she said.

Village elders say this year the rat population multiplied because one of the bamboo species (gopey) bloomed.

Batuli Maya, 79, of Doonglagang gewog recollects her forefathers telling them that bamboo blooming is rare and a bad omen. “It is an indication of famine,” she said.

She said locals believe that rat population multiplies when bamboo blooms and it multiplies so much that the bamboo flower won’t be enough to feed on. “That’s when the rodent attack crops.”

Batuli and her son are worried that the rats won’t spare their millet after they have majorly damaged paddy. “It first ate cardamom, then rice and now they have already begun attacking vegetables,” she said.

Bamboo flowering is also considered a bad omen in several northeastern states of India, especially when accompanied by an increase in the rodent population, according to a prominent Indian publication, Down To Earth.

In its in-depth article, Down To Earth states that bamboo flowering is a peculiar phenomenon. Bamboos grow vegetatively for a species-specific period before flowering, seeding and dying. Most bamboo plants flower only once in their life cycle. Some species of bamboo flower only once every 40 to 50 years.

Officials at the National Plant Protection Centre in Thimphu said that although the centre is aware of the rodent outbreak, it has not carried out any studies. Officials said a detailed research is being planned soon.

Nirmala Pokhrel  | Tsirang