New Delhi: India’s monsoon was 29% below average from 1 June –11 August, while food prices rose 10%, officials said ahead of a government report likely to show rainfall was below normal for the third straight week.
Weather officials said low rainfall so far, the worst in at least five years, would hit winter-sown crops such as rapeseed and wheat, while a trade body said edible oils imports by the world’s top buyer would surge as rains will hit output of oilseeds, particularly groundnut.
The weak monsoon has already damaged the cane crop, and prospects of big purchases by the world’s top sugar consumer has helped New York sugar rise to the highest level in nearly three decades.
A government source said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was likely to meet chief ministers of all the states on Monday to discuss the drought-like situation.
The weather office chief, Ajit Tyagi, said on ET Now television channel that the situation was grim and low rainfall may hurt winter-sown crops as well.
“Yes, it’s a difficult year ... we have advised the states well in advance that there are some areas of concern particularly over northwest India and parts of Andhra Pradesh, maybe central India also,” he said.
Northwest India is a key sugarcane area, while central India grows soybean. Andhra Pradesh cultivates rice and corn.
But Tyagi said he was not in a position to saw if that the country was suffering from a drought.
“We don’t declare drought. We are meteorologists. Agriculture department does that,” Tyagi told Reuters.
The government says India has grain stocks to last more than a year, and that it would act against hoarding and speculation, but analysts said they are worried about rising inflation in the months ahead.
India’s wholesale price index fell 1.74% on 1 August from a year ago, but the “food articles index” was up 10%.
Erratic monsoon rains, which began with the driest June in 83 years and improved last month, were 29% short of normal in 1 June-11August, unchanged from the previous day, government sources said.
But the key soybean crop, which had received virtually no rainfall in the past three weeks, got a shot in the arm on Wednesday, when rainfall was up to four times of normal, the weather office said.
It said the region was likely to receive heavy rains in the next few days also, cheering traders who had feared that further delay in rains would reduce soybean yield by 5-7%.
Annual monsoon rains in India, where farmers depend on the June-September showers to irrigate 60% of their farmland, are likely to be 87% of the long-period average this year.
The weather office, which initially predicted normal rainfall for the season, has scaled down the forecast twice.