Authorities in northeastern India are offering farmers cash for every rat killed in the face of an explosion in the rat population that threatens to devastate crops and plunge the region into a famine, officials said Wednesday.

Farmers will be paid two rupees, or 5 cents, for every rat tail brought in to government offices as proof that the rat has been killed, said James Lalsiamliana, an official of Mizoram state's Rodent Control Program.

"Rodents are swarming all across Mizoram state, feasting on standing crops and leading to fears of a famine. The situation is indeed alarming," Lalsiamliana told The Associated Press by phone from the state capital, Aizawl.

The cash-for-rats scheme is the latest devised by the Mizoram government to deal with the rapid increase in the rat population caused by a rare flowering of wild bamboo plants in the region over the last three years.

The rats feast on the bamboo flowers, which bloom intermittently for about four years, and then not again for another 50. When the flowers die down the rats move on to other crops in search of food.

Authorities are taking the rat threat seriously.

The last major flowering of the plant, known locally as the muli bamboo (Melocanna Baccifera), in 1959, sparked a famine that led to a violent three-decade-long rebellion by local tribes.

The current flowering began in 2004 and is expected to last until 2008.

In recent years the government has contained the rat population by handing out tons of rat poison and paying farmers to make traps. The army has killed rats.

Experts from Japan, Canada and Australia have been in the region studying the bamboo, to determine why it flowers so irregularly and how that affects the rat population, Lalsiamliana said.