New Delhi: India’s monsoon shortfall worsened to 28% at the weekend, raising fears that the June-September season may turn out to be as bad as 2004 when summer crop output fell 12% after a drought.
Annual monsoon rains, vital for sugarcane, oilseeds and other crops, began disastrously with the driest June in 83 years followed by near-normal rainfall in many parts of India in July, but this month, India received barely a third of normal rain.
The total rainfall deficit in the country since the season began in June was 28% by 8 August from 25% three days earlier, senior officials of the weather office told Reuters.
The soybean-producing region of central India, which has been almost totally dry for more than two weeks, is expected to see better rains in the next seven days, they said.
In Uttar Pradesh, the country’s top cane producer, rainfall was likely to improve from Wednesday, the officials, who did not want to be identified, said.
“There is some good news. We are expecting a revival in central and northwestern India,” one official at the India Meteorological Department said.
But the revival was unlikely to make up for the deficit in early August and rainfall during the month was likely to be lower than the forecast of 101% of normal, officials said.
Low rainfall has heightened concerns of crop damage, encouraging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ask states to take prompt steps to ease rural distress.
The damage to sugar crop has helped lift ICE front-month raw sugar futures to a fresh high of 21.55 cents a lb, the highest since March 1981.
“The monsoon may miss the August rainfall forecast,” said one official of the India Meteorological Department.
India has witnessed monsoon failures on two earlier occasions this decade. In 2004, the annual rain cycle was 13% below normal, while it was 19% deficient in 2002.
“The possibility of a drought this year seems to be higher and further likely to get accentuated by El Nino which is being feared,” S Raghuraman, head of trade research at industry portal agriwatch.com.
The June-September rains are the main source of irrigation for farms and are crucial for Asia’s third-largest economy.
India’s soybean crop, which has seen virtually no rain in the past two weeks, would gain from rains forecast this week.
Traders said the crop seemed healthy, but needed immediate rains to improve soil moisture.
“The crop condition is not so bad and can withstand lack of rains for 3-4 days,” said a trade official who recently visited soybean growing fields in central India.
“Soybean has entered the flowering stage and needs good soil moisture for nourishment,” he said.
A trader from Indore, the soybean hub of India, said a drought-like situation was developing in some parts of central India due to scanty rains.
Trade sources said this year’s soybean areas in states such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh exceeded targets.