Dry bamboo could be harbinger of drought, say Uttara Kannada villagers

By Times Of India on 28 Aug 2017 | read
BENGALURU: The sudden drying up and death of bamboo in the forests of Uttara Kannada district has become a cause for worry among the common people. Bamboo, which is common in the Western Ghats, was in the news last year when it blossomed.Farmers in the area had last year predicted that bamboo would blossom in the drought and when rainfall was low. This came true, with rainfall in the past two years down by 50% of the average rain in the season. "We've seen this phenomenon after almost 50 years. Our elders used to say that bamboo is the best indicator of climate change: If bamboo flowers tur n to fruit, locally called `bamboo rice', it will be a year of scarce water and low rainfall," said Ganapu Buddu, a tribal of Joida area.

Tribals in the area said the bamboo flowering had worried them as it leads to variation in climatic temperature, less rainfall and a fall in agricultural produce. Mass flowering also attracts predators, mainly rodents. The sudden availability of fruit in huge quantities in the forest brings in millions of hungry rats who feed, grow and multiply at an alarming rate. After they devour the bamboo fruit, the rats start consuming crops -both stored as well as on fields. A bamboo flowering event is almost always followed by famine and disease in nearby villages, said Raju Gowda, an agriculturist.

But this year, the bamboo plants turned yellow in April-May and slowly dried up. Most of the people acquainted with the forest say there is little revival of bamboo plants that have turned yellow. "Bamboo is an important food for elephants in the Western Ghats and farmers are apprehensive of elephants intruding agricultural fields in search of food, if bamboo is not available," said Nagesh Kamat, an agriculturist. "We are worried because during the monsoon, the cane is drying up while the rest of the forest has turned green. The forest department should study this phenomenon."

But deputy conservator of forests, Karwar, K Ganapati said it was a natural phenomenon. Bamboos have the life cycle of 65-80 years. They start blossoming and flowers produce fruit (bamboo rice) for 60-70 years. Following this, the bamboo forest dies out. Since a bamboo forest usually grows from a single bamboo, the death of bamboo occurs in a large area. The rice which falls on the earth results in growth of new bamboo trees, he added.