New Delhi: India’s June-September monsoon rains are expected to withdraw on schedule, the chief of the weather office said on Wednesday, unlike last year when late end-season rains hit sugar output in the world’s biggest consumer.
Monsoon rains irrigate around 40% of farms in India, which is the world’s second-biggest producer of rice, wheat, sugar and cotton, and are crucial for the livelihoods of many of the two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion who live in rural areas.
Agriculture contributes around 14.6% to the trillion-dollar economy and rains can also impact inflation in the country, one of the world’s biggest consumers of farm products.
The La Nina weather phenomenon was already weakening, Ajit Tyagi, director-general of state-run India Meteorological Department, told Reuters in an interview.
After weakening, La Nina, which prolongs monsoon rains in South Asia, enters a neutral phase—when it has no influence on rainfall—which typically continues for a few months before El Nino, the opposite weather phenomenon, sets in.
“This year we do not expect late withdrawal of rains unlike last year which was an abnormal one. There were heavy rains in August-September and withdrawal too was late,” Tyagi said.
After the worst drought in nearly four decades in 2009, last year monsoon rains started retreating only from late September, delayed by almost three weeks.
Forecasting India’s monsoon can be difficult. In 2009, the weather office had forecast a normal monsoon but the season turned out to be the driest since 1972.
In 2010, weather officials had forecast a normal monsoon but could not predict the timing of its withdrawal which was delayed due to La Nina.
Late withdrawal of rains leads to lower recovery of sugar from cane, hitting output.
A timely withdrawal of the monsoon, which delivers more than 70% of annual rainfall, will boost output and may encourage the government to allow sugar exports in 2012 for a second straight year.
“Timely withdrawal will help sugar production next year. Last year’s late withdrawal had reduced recovery by 2.5% and also delayed start of the 2010/11 crushing season,” said Vinay Kumar, managing director of the National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories, a producers’ body of 250 mills.
In December, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said mills would be allowed to export 500,000 tonnes. A rise in domestic food prices later forced the government to put the decision on hold. India finally permitted mills to export only last month.
The delay in supplies from India helped benchmark New York sugar prices touch a 30-year high of 36.08 cents per lb in February.
“The weather office has already forecast a normal monsoon and if the withdrawal is also on schedule, I see a strong possibility of India exporting sugar in the next season,” Kumar said.
Tyagi, who last month forecast 2011 rains to be normal, said his office would announce the likely date of the onset of the monsoon over the southern Kerala coast in mid-May.