If the Minister for Development C. P. Thakur carries out his threat to clearfell the bamboo forests in the Northeast it would result in an ecological disaster followed by a political upheaval in that region. It must not be permitted -- Bamboo is the lifeblood of the people.
Knowledge is power, so some basic facts about gregarious flowering and its function in bamboo's dual system of reproduction should be widely made known in order to forestall any attempt to use such myths as `buds of poison' to clearfell the bamboo forests.
The rhizome of a bamboo produces a large number of culms (a culm is a single bamboo) during monsoon. These grow rapidly to reach their full length by the end of that season. Such multiplication of culms ceases at the end of a species vegetative growth, which varies from 1-120 years in different species. Eastern India alone harbours more than 50 per cent of the known 125 species in India (D N Tiwari's `Bamboos' published by Indian Council of Forest Research). This implies that if any one of the bamboo species reaches the end of its vegetative period and begins to flower gregariously, the rest of the 70 odd species will live and continue to produce their bamboo culms.
The function of gregarious flowering needs to be understood properly. At the end of the vegetative period of a bamboo species it is exhausted wherever it be located. These exhausted clumps begin to flower. Cross pollination leads to genetic enrichment to produce a much better bamboo crop of that particular species. Therefore Minister Thakur's panic reaction and his assumption that the entire 10.03 million her of bamboo forests are on the verge of flowering is a gross exaggeration. Sporadic flowering that is reported as almost a harbinger of gregarious flowering is also totally untrue.
An occasional bamboo that has flowered sporadically outside its vegetative period has always been found to be an injured ones (R. S. Troupe the famed British botanist/forester). This is a mere survival strategy of that particular species (M. Savur 2003).
The fear of rodents is real. It has to be tackled. Who has more power and resources to do it than a development Minister? It is his duty and he has to fulfill his duty. Bamboo is a grass, so too are wheat and rice which bear edible seeds that both humans and rodent devour. If rodents are kept at bay in the ripening grain fields and from store houses why not from the ripening seeds of the bamboo. Surely it is less expensive than building ropeways to transport all the clearfelled bamboos.
Gregarious flowering of bamboo does not portend disaster. Drought, repeated droughts cause failure of crops, likewise it also exhausts the carbohydrate content, the main constituent of the bamboo which will then defensively flower and flower gregariously. A sheer survival strategy in the face of crisis.
Finally, it is very important to know that the beautiful bamboo forests in the North-East are by and large secondary forests, which had quickly sprung up and saved the delicate eco-system when the timber trees of the vast primary evergreen and semi-evergreen forests of that region were ruthlessly felled from 1950s onwards by the ply and veneer industries located in Assam. The Marwari owners of these forest based industries had cleverly bribed the local youth with hard cash and drugs. It is a shame that Minister Thakur now calls for clearfelling the protective mantle formed by the bamboos.
Bamboo does have many uses for the local people - but let us not forget it is also the green gold of the forests.
Prof Manorama Savur is author of the recently published And the Bamboo Flowers in the Indian Forests -- Vol I & II, Manohar Publishers, New Delhi