Monsoon hits Kerala coast

Monsoon hits Kerala coast

The southwest monsoon hit India's southern Kerala coast on Sunday, about four days later than normal, but the delay is not likely to have any bad impact on crops, weather officials and traders said.

"The monsoon today advanced over southern parts of Kerala and some parts of Tamil Nadu and the south Arabian Sea," A.B. Mazumdar, director of the Meteorological Department's weather forecasting centre said, adding heavy rains were likely.

The arrival of the monsoon, the lifeblood of India's agriculture sector, is keenly watched as two-thirds of the billion-plus population earn a living from the sector, which generates about a quarter of gross domestic product.

Almost two-thirds of farmland rely on the monsoon for water.

It normally arrives on June 1 but the weather bureau had forecast it could be delayed up to a week. The bureau forecast a normal monsoon with 98 percent of long-term average rains.

But the government's Centre for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation said on Thursday the rains were expected to be 34 percent below normal in June and 12 percent in July, crucial months for crop sowing.

The weather department is standing by its forecast.

A significant delay in the monsoon affects sowing of crops such as rice, oilseeds and cotton -- planted in June and July and harvested in October and November.

A bad monsoon also hits rural incomes, crucial to demand in Asia's fourth-largest economy, and lifts edible oils imports in the world's largest buyer because most oilseed-growing regions depend on the rains.

In the fiscal year to March, 2003, economic growth fell to 4 percent from 5.6 percent a year earlier after the worst monsoon in a decade in 2002, but surged to 8.5 percent in 03/04 on good and widespread rains.

Last year's monsoon was 13 percent below normal, hitting output of oilseeds and sugar and shaving growth to 6.9 percent for the fiscal year just ended.


Another weather official said parts of Kerala had received good rain in the past 24 hours and the winds and cloud formation suggested heavy rains over the next 24.

Traders are closely watching the time between the rains in June and July and the overall spread.

"The four-day delay is not going to make too much of a difference," said Adani Exports Ltd president Atul Chaturvedi. "As long as monsoon rains are alright in June and July, sowing operations can take off in the right manner.

"But the spread of the rainfall in major crop growing areas is going to be very important. If rains are good in the two months, we are almost through."

A good monsoon is also crucial for sugarcane. Delayed and poor rain in the past two years cut sugar output to a forecast 13 million tonnes this crop year from 13.8 million the previous year and 20 million in the harvest year to October, 2003.

That took India from being a sugar exporter to an importer, buying about 2.5 million tonnes of raw sugar over the two years.

"A timely onset of the monsoon in major sugarcane producing areas will boost plantings of the 18-month duration crop," said Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation managing director Prakash Naiknavare.

Maharashtra, the largest sugar state, saw little planting of the 18-month crop last year due to a delayed monsoon.

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