New Delhi: Rainfall during the June-to-September southwest monsoon season will be normal this year, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Tuesday, confirming its first forecast that was issued in April.

According to the latest update, monsoon rainfall will likely be 98% of the long-period, or 50-year, average (LPA) for the entire country, more than the 96% IMD had estimated in April.

Monsoon rainfall will be fairly distributed across the country, IMD director general K.J. Ramesh said, adding that while central India is likely to receive 100% of normal rains, peninsular India will likely receive 99%. North-west and north-east India are expected to receive 96% of the normal rainfall.

IMD said rainfall during July and August will likely be 96% and 99% of the LPA, respectively. There is a 65% probability that rains will be normal to excess for the entire country, it added.

The weather office has ruled out the possibility of any strong El Nino developing during the latter half of the monsoon, Ramesh said, adding that “in view of this positive development we have upgraded the monsoon forecast from 96% to 98%".

His reference is to a weather phenomenon that causes warmer oceans in the equatorial Pacific region that is normally associated with a poor monsoon in the subcontinent.

IMD’s forecast of 98% rainfall comes with a model error of 4 percentage points (on either side). A monsoon is considered to be normal when total rainfall is between 96% and 104% of the LPA.

On 30 May, the monsoon hit the Kerala coast, two days before its usual onset date. After making landfall in Kerala, it advances to other parts of the country over June.

The timely onset and improved forecast of the monsoon, together with fairly even region-wise and month-wise distribution, augurs well for rain-fed kharif crops and food inflation, Aditi Nayar, principal economist at rating agency Icra Ltd, said in a statement.

“Following the record high growth of most crops in 2016-17, we expect that growth in agriculture will moderate to 3.5% in 2017-18," she added.

The onset of the monsoon kick-starts the sowing season for summer crops in the country. India receives 70% of its annual rainfall during this period, which irrigates over half of its rain-fed croplands.

In 2016, the monsoon was normal at 97% of LPA after two consecutive years of deficit. The normal monsoon last year aided a rebound in agricultural growth to 4.9% (2016-17) after dismal 0.7% growth and 0.2% contraction seen in 2015-16 and 2014-15, respectively.

The normal rains in 2016 also led to record foodgrain production of an estimated 273 million tonnes in 2016-17, about 9% higher than a year earlier.

Evenly distributed and normal rains will ensure a good harvest and keep food prices low, said Ashok Gulati, agriculture chair professor at the Delhi-based Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations. “The challenge will be to ensure that farmers get at least announced support prices and are not forced to sell (produce) at a loss due to a glut," Gulati said.

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