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An Island in Need of a Pied Piper

Waves of Rats Destroying Rice Harvest in at Least Three Regions of Bali.

(8/3/2009) Kompas.com reports that a plaque of crop-destroying rats are attacking farms in a number of areas of the island, with the worst affected regions in Tabanan, Badung and Gianyar. Farmers, many of whom are now facing a potentially tragic third cycle of failed crops, are blaming climate change for the army of rats that have denuded 72 hectares of agricultural land and threaten a further 472 hectares.

The Badung regency has suffered an especially hard hit, affecting large areas of that district where crops have been decimated by unusually large influx of rats believed to have migrated from the adjoining Tabanan regency in search of food. Tabanan agricultural officials estimate that in 2008 some 70 hectares of rice and corn crops were destroyed by the marauding rats. The worst affected sub-district was Riang Gede in Penebel where 57 hectares of crops have been wiped out. Next door, in the Gianyar regency, a total of 14 hectares of crops have been ruined since the beginning of 2009.

The Chief of the Agriculture and Plantations Department for Badung, I Gusti Made Agung, said on Monday, July 27th, that the destruction of agricultural crops was worst in Mengwi which is now entering into its traditional harvest season. Valuable seed nurseries, covering 20 are (2,000 square meters), have been attacked by the rodents. Badung officials have distributed rat poison in the affected region and urged farmers to undertake mass killing programs against the rats.

Officials are concerned that the current plague of rats will adversely affect rice production in Bali this year. Overall, rice production has decreased over the past two years due to reduced agricultural lands and pestilence. In 2007, the total amount of land under rice cultivation reduced from 150,577 to 145,030 hectares. This resulted in a reduction of rice production from 840,891 to 839,775 tons.

Made Raka, a farmer from Tegan, Kapal in Mengwi told Kompas.com that as the result of rat attacks, he has failed to harvest 6,000 square meters of corn planted last June, causing him a financial loss of Rp. 5 million (US$490). Raka is concerned that his losses will soon grow with his new 25-day-old crop now under assault by rodents. He described how young rice plants that have fallen after being eaten by rats. His efforts to poison the animals have been unsuccessful, with rats continuing to increase in his planting fields.

In more normal times, the Balinese foster a more peaceful rapprochement with the island's rodent population. Rats, given the nick-name of Jero Ketut, are more often chased away from rice fields than killed. And, when killing is unavoidable, ceremonies in which the rates receive a religiously prescribed cremation are carried out.