New Delhi: India’s monsoon rains were 23% below normal in the week to July 27, a sharp reversal from the previous week, the weather office said, and making August rainfall crucial for one of the world’s biggest producers and consumers of sugar and rice.
The monsoon, essential for the 60% of the country that does not have irrigation, was below normal in particular over rice and cotton growing areas of south and western India.
Cane growing areas in the north and west also received poor rains, but soybean growing areas of central India had good rains.
The weather office had forecast rains 7% below average for July, but the latest data put the shortfall in the monsoon so far this month at 14% below normal.
“Rains at regular intervals are important for growth. Now, August rains will be very crucial,” said Vimala Reddy, analyst with Karvy Comtrade, a brokerage based in the western city of Ahmedabad.
The weak phase could continue for early August, a source at the weather office who requested anonymity told Reuters.
“The current weak phase is expected to prevail early next week, and (rains) could then revive in the south, northeast and northern foothills,” the source said.
The weather office’s overall forecast, made around a month ago, expected the rains to be slightly below normal for the entire June to September season.
The monsoon rains were 4% below average during 1 June to 27 July, mainly due to poor rains over rice areas of eastern India and cotton areas of south India.
Forecasting the monsoon is notoriously difficult and in 2009, India had its worst drought for three decades after predictions by the weather office of a normal monsoon, pushing it to buy sugar and spurring international prices.
“If poor rains continue for the next two weeks, then there could a problem, while rains at regular intervals will ensure enough moisture in the soil to keep crops healthy,” said L.S. Rathore, head of the farm weather division of the Indian weather office.
Most at risk among food crops could be rice, sugar cane, corn and lentils, analysts said.
“Corn, lentils and cane will ... be hit,” Reddy said.
India is sitting on huge stocks of rice and has just allowed one million tonnes of exports — under one% of output.
The government has been reluctant to open up exports of crops before it finalises a bill which aims to provide subsidised food to many of its 1.2 billion population, 42% of whom live in poverty.
The summer season rice crop accounts for about 85% of total output and is grown in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. All these states had shortfalls in rain last week ranging from 36 to 78% of the long-term average.
Poor harvests can push up prices of foods and spur inflation, which is already worrying the government and central bank at over 9%.
Sugar cane areas received poor rains in the past week, raising output concerns for the sturdy crop, which needs irrigation to ensure higher yields.
“Cane requires irrigation at different stages. Rains at regular intervals are important for growth,” said Reddy.
Cash crops such as cotton could also be affected by lack of rains.
“Cotton needs rains at regular intervals after planting gets over for healthy growth,” D. K. Nair, secretary general of the New Delhi-based trade body Confederation of Indian Textile Industries.
Last year, rainfall was 38% above normal in the week to 28 July, after a weak start in June, and ended the four-month season as normal.
A normal monsoon means India receives rainfall between 96-104% of a 50-year average of 89 centimetres.