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India summer crops may be 20 pct below normal: govt
NEW DELHI, Aug 27 (AFP) Aug 27, 2009
India could record a 15 to 20 percent crop shortfall due to widespread drought caused by a bad monsoon, the finance minister said Thursday.

Some 252 out of India's 626 districts have been hit by drought as a result of the weak June-to-September monsoon that is running at 26 percent below normal, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

"For the impact of production on the kharif (summer) crop, the exact quantum (of the shortfall) will be known only when the harvesting starts," he said.

"But from the picture of sowing, one can easily estimate that there is likelihood of a shortfall to the extent of 15 to 20 per cent," the minister told a business conference.

"Drought is there, there's a rainfall deficiency to the extent of 26 percent," he said.

The annual rains are the weakest in years.

The monsoon is dubbed an "economic lifeline" in a country of nearly 1.2 billion people that is one of the world's leading producers of rice, wheat and sugar.

With only 40 percent of arable land under irrigation, India's 235 million farmers rely on the rains.

India produced 117.7 million tonnes of food grains last summer out of which 84.58 million tonnes were rice.

The government said earlier this month that rice production could fall by 10 million tonnes and also forecast a shortfall in production of oilseeds and sugarcane.

Despite the rain shortfall, government officials say there will be no food shortages thanks to two years of bumper harvests.

However, food price inflation, already soaring before the monsoon, has been pushed higher by the meagre rainfall, hitting India's poor masses hardest.

The finance minister says he still expects the economy to grow by "six percent plus" despite the drought thanks to a robust industrial performance.

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