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Late Monsoon Rains Ease India's Drought Fears

  • Anjana Pasricha

A young Indian child rests near a herd of cattle in Bagodara, India. The showers, which normally run from June to September in large areas of what is now a drought affected the country, Aug. 23, 2012.
In India, fears of drought and crop failures have eased following a revival in monsoon rains, which has raised expectations that India - one of the world’s largest rice producers - will continue to export the food grain which is a a staple of the Asian diet.
Revival of monsoon rains

In June and July, Gurchuran Singh - a farmer in the northern Punjab state - despaired at the sight of sunny, cloudless skies. He used underground water to irrigate his parched fields, but feared that his rice crop may wilt without the benefit of monsoon rains.
But in August, dark clouds appeared and copious showers drenched his crop, giving hope to Singh that his rice harvest will be close to normal this year.
Singh says, at most, his crop will be 10 percent less than last year. He says it would have been hit much worse if rains had not arrived.
The late revival of monsoon rains is a huge relief in a country where just a month ago there were widespread fears of drought and crop failures.
Rains in August and early September have been heavy, making up for the shortfall in the early part of India’s monsoon season. The deficit is now less than 10 percent compared to 30 percent at the end of June.
Officials say the monsoon’s revival means that crops such as rice, sugar cane and cotton will not suffer as much as originally feared. But such crops as lentils, beans and peanuts and will likely see a decrease in yield, particularly in states where farmers do not have irrigation facilities.
Crops, livestock recover

The chairman of the Institute of Rural Management in Gujarat state, Y.K. Alagh, says the lack of rains had also hit animal feed stocks, posing a problem for livestock farmers.
Still, Alagh says many of the worries about a poor monsoon are gone, with late rains filling up lakes and reservoirs, replenishing groundwater and helping winter crops called “rabi”. “The rain we have had will be very beneficial. I don’t think we will have a drinking water problem now. And I think our fodder situation will improve, which should mean an easing of food inflation pressures on the economy. And, we have plenty of retained moisture now for a good rabi [winter crop],” Alagh stated.
The rains have also eased concerns about possible disruption of rice exports from India. Food Minister K.V. Thomas says that exports will continue because the government has ample stocks from last year’s harvest.
He says the country wants to be a stable player in the global market for agricultural commodities such as rice and wheat.
The head of the All India Rice Exporters Association, Vijay Setia, says farmers may not harvest a bumper crop as in recent years, but production will be normal.
“Now crop is very healthy, there is no disease to the crop. Last year it was 104 million tons, this time it is again going to be around 100 million tons. This could be the affect of the drought, but still it is sufficient crop. India’s own consumption is 94 to 96 million tons, so India has four-five million tons of rice for export,” Setia explained.
Last year, India lifted a 2008 ban on rice exports, which sent global rice prices soaring. India, the world’s second largest rice producer, emerged as the world’s largest rice exporter after the ban was lifted.