India’s June-September monsoon will likely be weak, the India Meteorological Department said in its official forecast Thursday. It put the odds of an El Nino, a weather pattern that puts India and Australia at higher risks of a drought, at 60%, in line with some global projections.
A below-normal monsoon doesn’t necessarily put India at the risk of drought. Less than half of all El Ninos in a 126-year period have impacted India’s monsoon, the Met’s data show. Yet, much depends on how the weather pattern, marked by a warming of the equatorial Pacific, builds up.
The monsoon is critical for Asia’s third-largest economy as half of all Indians depend on agriculture for a living. Good summer rains drive up output of summer crops, which account for half of India’s total annual food production. These include the key staple rice, along with a range of commodities, including lentils, oilseeds, vegetables and sugar, of which India’s is the second-biggest producer and largest consumer.
According to the official forecast, rainfall is likely to be 95% of the long-term average of 89 cm. According to the Met’s classification, for a normal monsoon, falls have to be between 96-104%. The Met is likely to issue an updated forecast in June.
India’s economy is set to grow at 4.9% in 2013-14, marginally higher than previous year’s 4.5%. This is the first time in 25 years that the country’s growth rate will end up below 5% in two successive years. A deficient monsoon could be among the first challenges a new government, set to take office in May, will have to address to help revive an embattled economy.
Plentiful rains help keep a check on food prices. If rains end up poorer than estimated, the country could face a drought for the first time in four years. Weak rains could potentially dent farm output and make the fight against inflation tougher, which are already ruling high at over 7% at the retail level.