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November 4, 2008

In Search of the Pied Piper

Sajjad Zohir
Save the Children, UK

A rapid appraisal of livelihood situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, following reports of rat infestation, led me into an interesting journey. Bamboos exhibit mast seedling, once in 50+ years for some specie. Its known for centuries; yet the knowledge got lost since the last one coincided with massive dislocation of local people with the building of the Kaptai dam. The scope of the report is however constrained by the immediate needs of the sponsor.

Bamboo is literally the stuff of life for the hillmen; and it is no different for the people in the CHT districts. But the bamboos are known to exhibit mast seedling – depending on the species, the intervals range from 3 to 120 years. The mass deaths of bamboos after flowering causes havocs for humans in the vicinity, which may last three to four years or more. The ecological balance is initially disturbed in two respects – (i) feeding on nutritious seeds, the rodent population increase at a pace far greater than their historical norm; and (ii) in forests with significant presence of bamboos, almost 70 percent of which happens to be of the same specie (Bambusa baccifera, or Melocanna baccifera,
commonly known as Muli baansh), death of these plants creates significant open space to induce competition amongst plants as well as humans. The dynamics set in by the initial imbalance affect human lives in more than one ways, and currently, we are possibly at a stage when the size of imbalance is still in the process of getting big and the factors to bring things back to some semblance of ‘normal’ are yet to set in motion.

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