A failure to harvest the plants quickly will put the northeast at risk of famine New Delhi is waging a new battle in India's insurgency-wracked northeast, but the no-holds-barred fight is not against rebel armies. Rather, it is against gigantic bamboo forests on the verge of flowering in one of the most remote parts of the country. Bamboo does not normally flower - the cycle varies from 10 to 100 years depending on the species. But when it does, it can leave a trail of destruction in its wake. After flowering, the bamboo crushes the land with the weight of dead and rotting plants where nothing can grow for years to come. In addition, the protein-rich seeds scattered shortly after the flowering stage nourishes rats, which multiply rapidly and attack standing crops and food grain stocks. Authorities in India have pulled out all stops to avert an ecological disaster in an 18,000 sq km region spread across the northeastern states of Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Assam and Meghalaya where vast bamboo plantations are due to flower from 2004 to 2007. In the 1950s, deaths from a famine caused by a bamboo flowering in Mizoram triggered an armed separatist rebellion spanning two decades. According to official records 2.5 million rats had to be killed in the mid-1970s - the last time bamboo flowered in the region. C.P. Thakur, federal minister for development of northeastern region, who heads a taskforce charged with tackling the impending crisis, told Outlook magazine: 'We have no option but to harvest entire bamboo forests before they start flowering. And time is fast running out. Moreover, the harvested bamboo has to be transported and the mass produce utilised.' The logistics of harvesting and transporting an estimated 25 million tonnes of bamboo in one of India's most backward regions is daunting, but authorities are determined to avert a calamity. The Planning Commission is also building rat-proof grain silos to avoid a repetition of the Mizoram famine. But according to the Indian Council of Forestry and Research and Education, bamboo is vital to the regional economy, generating 12 billion rupees (HK$2 billion) a year and employing thousands. 'The need of the hour is meticulous planning for marketing the bamboo ... and [to] quickly regenerate the bamboo groves so that local industries dependent on it are not affected.'