India suffers driest June in five years, fears for crops, Latest World News - The New Paper

India suffers driest June in five years, fears for crops

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Poor rainfall likely to hit agriculture, broader economy

MUMBAI India had its driest June in five years due to a delay in monsoon rains, the weather department said late on Sunday, raising fears for crops and the broader economy.

Overall, rains were a third below average, although in some states, including the sugar cane growing northern state of Uttar Pradesh, they were as much as 61 percent down, data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) showed.

Over half of India's arable land relies on rainfall, and agriculture makes up about 15 per cent of Asia's third-largest economy, which is already suffering a slowdown.

The monsoon usually covers nearly the entire country by July 1, but has covered less than two-thirds so far this year, according to the IMD data.

If the rains don't improve over the next two to three weeks, India could face a crisis that hammers harvests and rural demand, analysts said.

Companies that supply farmers with everything from tractors to consumer goods would also be vulnerable.

The country is still recovering from a drought last year that ravaged crops, killed livestock, emptied reservoirs and drained water supplies to city dwellers and some industries.

Rains first arrived in the southern state of Kerala a week late on June 8, but the developing Cyclone Vayu in the Arabian Sea drew moisture from the monsoon and weakened its progress.

Cotton, soybean and pulses growing in western and central parts of India are likely to get good rainfall in the first half of July, but rains could be below average in northern India, said an IMD official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

In the second half of July rainfall in north-western India could improve, but rains in central and western India could be subdued, the official said.

Overall, India faces below average rainfall in July but the deficit is likely to be far smaller than June's 33 per cent, he said.

In 2014, India received 42 per cent less rainfall in June and ended the June-Sept monsoon season with rains 12 per cent below average.

The weak start to the monsoon has delayed planting, with farmers sowing crops on 14.7 million hectares as of June 28, down almost 10 per cent from a year earlier.

For 2019, the IMD in late May forecast average rainfall, while the country's only private forecaster, Skymet, has predicted below-normal rainfall.

A normal, or average, monsoon means rainfall between 96 per cent and 104 per cent of a 50-year average of 89cm during the four-month monsoon season, according to the IMD's classification.