"We don't intend to curb farm exports. In fact, the government on Tuesday scrapped the minimum export price of onion to help farmers get better realisation," said the official. "It's too early to say whether El Nino will actually affect the monsoon, and, if yes, to what extent. So we will wait for the forecast by the IMD (Indian Meterological Office)."
The weather office is expected to firm up its first long-range forecast of the monsoon in April.
India is the world's largest exporter of rice and guar gum and second-largest supplier of cotton and also ships wheat in large volumes. The country's farm exports are projected to rise 9.8% to $45 billion in 2013-14, accounting for 13.8% of the total exports of $325 billion targetted for the current fiscal.
The government is fully prepared to tackle any fluctuation in weather this year and states have been asked to keep contingency plans ready, another official said.
Grain stocks with state-run agencies hit 41.1 million tonnes as of February 1, compared to a requirement of 25 million tonnes for various welfare programmes. The projected record harvest of wheat in 2013-14 is likely to boost the stock levels further, giving relief to policymakers in case of a monsoon failure.
El Nino is warming of sea-surface temperature levels in the central and east Pacific and cooling of the West that occurs every four to 12 years. It caused the worst drought in 37 years in the country in 2009, dragging down grain production to 218.11 million tonnes from 234.47 million tonnes the year before.
Fears of widespread dry spells in many parts of Asia, including India, intensified this year after Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology last month said that climate models surveyed by it showed Pacific Ocean temperatures approaching or crossing El Nino thresholds in the austral winter. A report in the PNAS, the official journal of the US National Academy of Sciences, also said there was a 75% chance that El Nino could occur in late 2014.
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar played down El Nino fears, saying the government was keeping a tight vigil. The June-September monsoon season brings about 70% of annual rains and is crucial to the summer-sown crops as more than 60% of the country's farmland is rain-fed. The showers also boost ground water reserves for winter planting.