India confirms drought as El Nino looms

India’s monsoon rains will not be enough to save the country from its first drought in three years, the weather office said on Thursday as it forecast that the El Nino weather pattern should reduce rains again in the second half of the June to September season.

India, one of the world’s largest food producers and consumers with a population of 1.2 billion, last suffered a drought in 2009, which forced it to import sugar, pushing global prices higher.

This time around, global grain prices are soaring as the United States wilts in its own drought, the worst in the country for half a century.

Monsoon rains are considered deficient if they fall below 90 per cent of a 50-year average.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said rains over the entire June to September season were now expected to be less than 90 per cent of long-term averages. This is the first time it has forecast deficient rains at this point in the season.

Between June 1 and August 1, rainfall was about 19 per cent below average, close to the 23 per cent shortfall in the 2009 season.

Farm Minister Sharad Pawar is touring the worst-affected states and ministers will meet again to discuss the situation when he returns to Delhi.

Poor monsoon rains have already pushed up food prices and Food Minister K. V. Thomas has said that the government is watching volatility in some commodity futures.

Some analysts do not see prices rising further. Gnanasekar Thiagarajan, director of Mumbai brokerage Commtrendz Research, said: "Most of the prices of agricultural commodities have already reacted to this deficient monsoon. Agri prices are not going to go up much from current levels; prices will take a breather right now."

India’s monsoon is vital for the 55 per cent or so of India’s farmlands that do not have irrigation. The four-month season accounts for 75 per cent of the country’s annual rainfall and half of that is usually delivered in June and July.

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