India’s monsoon rains retreated to below average levels in the past week, the weather office said on Thursday, after scraping above average the previous week for the first time this season, keeping overall rainfall under par and pushing futures higher.
Monsoon rains were 22 percent below average in the week to 18 July, in contrast to last week where rains showed a one percent increase above average, reflecting the return of a weak phase after a revival in the first half of July, a crucial month for summer planting.
The latest data is heightening concerns that this year could see a drought instead of the average rains expected by the government, and is keeping the sowing of pulses and rice behind schedule.If there is no pick-up by the end of July, when India’s meteorological department will update its official forecast, this year might qualify as a drought, with rainfall less than 90 percent of average annual levels.
More than half of India’s arable land is rain-fed, and the farm sector accounts for around 15 percent of India’s economy.
Weathermen said signs of improvements in the monsoon are visible despite the weak rains, with showers gaining momentum over rice-growing eastern India.
“Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar are going to receive good rains in the next 24 hours,” said SC Bhan, a director at the Indian weather office.
Rains in the eastern region will help speed up rice sowing which is lagging due to lack of rain in the growing areas, easing concerns of a possible shortfall in the main food crop that accounts for about 70 percent of total summer crop output.
After the revival in the rice-growing areas, the monsoon is expected to become more active in soybean areas of central India in the next 2-3 days.
“About 80 percent of soybean sowing is over by now and the rest awaits the next spell of showers,” said Rajesh Agrawal, an official of the Indore-based Soybean Processors’ Association of India, a producers’ body.
Weather officials also said the rains would improve in cane growing areas of Uttar Pradesh state early next week, after the revival in the central region.
Poor rains have slowed the speed of planting crops such as rice, cereals, pulses and oilseeds including soybean, but areas under sugar cane and cotton, primarily grown in irrigated regions, have been higher than the previous year.
Grain bowl states of northwest India – Punjab and Haryana – are expected to receive ample rains from the middle of next week. Rains at this point in time will help crops which are already planted, such as cotton, to grow and reduce the burden of using water from reservoirs.
“We expect the monsoon to remain active in the remaining period of July as no negative trigger is visible,” Bhan said.