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India monsoon forecast brings inflation hope

by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) April 19, 2011
India's weather office on Tuesday forecast a "normal" monsoon this year that could boost food production and ease high inflation.

The strength of the annual June-September downpour is crucial to hundreds of millions of farmers, and to economic growth in Asia's third-largest economy which gets 80 percent of its annual rainfall from the monsoon.

Two years ago, rains 30 percent below the long-term average brought misery to farmers and caused economic growth to slow.

Though the government forecast is far from infallible, it is considered the best estimate for the rains.

The monsoon season "for the country as a whole is most likely to be normal," the weather office said in a statement Tuesday. Normal is defined as 96 to 104 percent of the average annual monsoon rainfall recorded in past years.

India achieved record food grain output of 236 million tonnes after last year's rains, which were 102 percent of the long-term average.

The weather office said there was a "very low probability" that the monsoon rains in 2011 would be "deficient".

Tuesday's forecast comes as a relief to the Congress-led government which has been seeking to wrestle down inflation of nearly nine percent, driven by especially high food prices, and is facing key elections in five states.

The rains, which spread from southern Kerala state in the first week of each June and blanket most of central and northern India by July, are vital to the economy of rural areas, where two-thirds of the 1.2 billion population live.

Despite its flagship IT and outsourcing sector, agriculture remains a vital component of India's trillion-dollar economy as bumper crops put money in the hands of farmers who spend on cars and other consumer goods.

Agriculture accounts for 15 percent of gross domestic product.

Summer crops such as rice, sugar cane, cotton and oil seeds are sown in July and harvested from October. India is the world's second-biggest producer of rice, wheat and sugar cane.

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