India suffers driest June in five years, fears for crops

India had its driest June in five years due to a delay in monsoon rains, the weather department said, raising fears for crops and the broader economy.

Overall, rains were a third below average, although in some states, including the sugar cane growing northern state of Uttar Pradesh, they were as much as 61 per cent down, data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) showed.

Over half of India’s arable land relies on rainfall, while agriculture makes up about 15 per cent of Asia’s third-largest economy, which is already suffering a slowdown. The monsoon usually covers nearly the entire country by July 1, but has covered less than two-thirds so far this year, according to the IMD data.

If the rains don’t improve over the next two to three weeks, India could face a crisis that hammers harvests and rural demand, analysts said. Companies supplying farmers with everything from tractors to consumer goods would be vulnerable.

India is still recovering from a drought last year that ravaged crops, killed livestock, emptied reservoirs and drained water supplies to city dwellers and some industries. Rains first arrived in the southern state of Kerala a week late on June 8, but the developing Cyclone Vayu in the Arabian Sea drew moisture from the monsoon and weakened its progress.

Cotton, soybean and pulses growing western and central parts of India are likely to get good rainfall in the first half of July, but rains could be below average in northern India.

In the second half of July rainfall in north-western India could improve, but rains in central and western India could be subdued. Overall, India faces below average rainfall in July but the deficit is likely to be far smaller than June’s 33%.

The weak start to the monsoon has delayed planting, with farmers sowing crops on 14.7 million hectares as of June 28, down almost 10% on a year earlier.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, Indoasiancommodities.com. He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at shekhar.ghosh@indoasiancommodities.in.

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