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Monsoon revives, drought risks ease for now

by fwire  Jul 20, 2012 23:00 IST

#Business   #India   #NewsTracker  

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The monsoon rains have revived and are expected to remain active at least until the end of this month, weather officials said on Friday, easing risks of a drought for now and helping planting to pick up momentum.

The June-September monsoon, vital for planting of rice, corn, cane, cotton and soybean in one of the world's biggest food consumers and producers, lost momentum last week and fell nearly a fifth short of averages, raising the prospect of a drought.

"Monsoon has revived in the last 24 hours on the predicted lines. We don't expect any dry patch until the month end," S.C. Bhan, a director at the India Meteorological Department (IMD), told Reuters.

Monsoon rains are crucial for farm output as the showers irrigate 55 percent of India's farmlands. The four-month season accounts for 75 percent of the country's annual rainfall and half of that is usually delivered in June and July.

On Thursday, Bhan had said rice growing Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand states would receive good rains.

"Rains are expected to be normal to above normal in the next week in most parts of eastern, central and northwest India," said a senior weather official who did not wish to be named.

Spurred by the revival in rains, rice planting, which has been lagging behind, is expected to pick up.

Both Farm Minister Sharad Pawar and Food Minister K.V. Thomas have talked about a likely cut in output of rice, which accounts for 70 percent of the total summer crop, and lentils, with Pawar describing the monsoon as "playing hide-and-seek".

Farmers plant rice and other summer-sown crops in the rainy months of June and July. Harvests start from October.

Between June 1 and June 20, farmers planted rice on 14.46 million hectares, down 10.35 percent from a year earlier period, farm ministry data showed on Friday.

There is still time for planting to catch up and India is anyway sitting on huge stockpiles of rice and grains, giving a plump cushion against any potential shortage due to drought.

Between July 1 and July 19, rains have been about 15 percent below average, while June showers were 29 deficient. Rains since June 1 are 22 percent below average.

The IMD has forecast good rains in soybean areas of central and cane areas of northern India until Sunday. Northern Punjab and Haryana states, the grain basket of India, are expected to receive good showers in the middle of next week.

The weather office is sticking to its forecast of average rains for the third straight year after 2009, when the worst drought in nearly four decades hit farm output and forced India, the world's top sugar consumer, to import large quantities of the sweetener.

Patchy rains have hit the planting of crops such as rice, cereals, pulses and oilseeds, including soybeans. But the areas under cane and cotton, mainly grown in irrigated regions, have been higher than the previous year.

(Writing by Mayank Bhardwaj; editing by Jo Winterbottom and Keiron Henderson)