Better-than-expected monsoon rains in the past two weeks have helped farmers in several parts of India sow cotton, pulses and oilseeds on time, but the country’s weather office is still sticking to its forecast of a likely drought.
Although a delayed arrival of the monsoon had worried farmers, more than two-thirds of the country has now received normal or above-normal levels of rainfall so far this monsoon season, which starts on June 1.
Overall, rainfall was 16 percent above normal as of Monday, helping fill up some reservoirs in a country where over half the farmland lacks irrigation systems.
“We were worried since everyone was talking about a drought,” said Shivaji Pophale, busy planting cotton in his three-acre plot in the village of Hivra in central India. “Fortunately we have got enough rains to start sowing.”
But Pophale is not celebrating yet, as the June-September rainy season has only started and things could change quickly. Agriculture accounts for just about 15 percent of India’s $2 trillion economy, but three-fifths of its 1.25 billion people depend on it for their livelihood.
Officials at the India Meteorological Department (IMD) say the northern states will receive heavier monsoon rains this week but that current weather patterns still point to total rains of just 88 percent of the long-term average, as predicted in early June, due to an El Nino weather pattern.
India received a similar level of rains last year but the government did not declare a drought as the monsoon picked up in the latter part of the season, underscoring its highly unpredictable nature, which keeps farmers on edge.
Skymet, India’s only private weather forecaster, has rejected the IMD’s prediction for 2015 and has forecast bountiful rains.
The recent downpour has helped rice farmers accelerate preparations for planting, which will lead to a greater area of rice cultivation this year, said B.V. Krishna Rao, managing director at Pattabhi Agro Foods, India’s top non-basmati rice exporter.
Soybean cultivation has also been proceeding at full speed in key producing states Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which could drive up national output by 10 percent to over 10 million tonnes this year, said Pravin Lunkad, president of industry body the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India.
Reflecting the sowing progress, soybean, cotton and chickpea futures inched down on Monday.
Higher output of soybean and pulses is good news for India, which spends billions of dollars importing the pulses and edible oil widely used in the country’s cooking.