South Asia monsoon seen normal in 2011-weather forum

South Asia monsoon seen normal in 2011-weather forum

Pune: South Asia is likely to receive normal monsoon rains in 2011, a gathering of global weather forecasters said on Friday, good news for countries such as India whose massive demand for farm goods impact international markets.

The quality of monsoon rains will be critical not just for India’s economic growth but also for reining in food-led inflation, which rose by nearly 9% in March 2011.

A poor monsoon in 2009 forced India, a top consumer and producer of a range of agricultural commodities from sugar to wheat to vegetable oils, to turn to international markets to make up shortfalls in its own output.

The South Asia Climate Outlook Forum meeting in the western Indian city of Pune said the La Nina weather phenomenon, which brings rain to the subcontinent, would continue until the June start of the Indian monsoon.

“The large-scale summer monsoon rainfall would most likely be within the normal range," the Forum, which drew weather officials and official forecasters from across the world, said in its agenda-setting official forecast.

India’s government, which is struggling with not only inflation but also a massive subsidy bill for fuel, grains and fertilisers, would hope for some price relief from a good monsoon.

India will give its first official forecast for this year’s monsoon on 19 April.

Higher exports?

Bad rainfall also results in political pressure on the government, as farmers demand higher rates for their produce and ask bureaucrats to waive loan repayment and electricity charges, impacting public finances.

Higher agricultural supplies triggered by normal rains could encourage the Indian government to allow overseas sale of wheat and lift export curbs on rice.

India faces a storage problem as the 2011 wheat harvest is set to be a record, exceeding demand for a fifth straight year.

Earlier, sources attending the Pune meeting said rice and soybean growing areas of southern and central India could receive above-normal to normal monsoon rains in 2011, but cane and corn growing areas could see below-normal rainfall.

The June-September monsoon rains could be above-normal in rice growing southern regions, they said. The forecast for central India, where soybean is a major crop, was normal, while rainfall could be below-normal in eastern and western India, where mostly rice, cane and oilseeds are grown.

A normal monsoon means the country receives rainfall between 96-104% of a 50-year average of 89 centimetres during the four-month rainy season, according to the India’s weather office classification.

The sources also said Indonesia and Thailand are expected to witness normal rains in 2011, while Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan could see below-normal rainfall. A good monsoon was seen over Sri Lanka, they said.

While India is mostly self-sufficient in staples like wheat and rice for its 1.2 billion population, drought can push the country into international markets as it did in 2009 when India had to import sugar -- sending global prices to record highs.

The government subsidises the price of key crops to contain inflation and ensure half a billion poor -- many of whom spend up to 60% of their incomes on food -- can afford to eat.

Monsoons also impact demand for gold in India, the world’s top consumer of the metal, as purchases get a boost when farming incomes rise amid high crop output. Rural areas account for about 70% of India’s annual gold consumption.

In most parts of India, the monsoon accounts for 75-90% of the total annual rainfall.

The monsoon impacts other sectors of Asia’s third largest economy, as farmers spend their cash on cars, motorcycles and consumer goods. Good rainfall reduces demand for diesel, used to pump water from wells for irrigation when rainfall is scant.