Monsoon rains ease as retreat begins
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's monsoon will end in a few days with a widespread drought avoided, latest weather data showed, as the crucial rains picked up from the end of August to help summer-sown crops and boost prospects for the major food producer's winter grains harvest.
The rains - crucial for more than half the country's farmland - were 36 percent below average in the week to September 26, the weather office said on Thursday.
Rains were 44 percent above average in the previous week after the heaviest downpours seen during the monsoon season.
They were deficient - a drought, in layman's terms - in the first half of the June-September season, but the late revival has alleviated the situation in much of the country with just a few states still suffering dry conditions.
The government's first estimates suggest India's summer-sown rice, corn and other grain crops could be down about a tenth from a year ago because of the poor early start to the rains, but no ban on exports of agri-commodities is expected.
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar urged farmers this week to take advantage of the late-landing rain and plant their winter crops early to boost yields in wheat and rapeseed.
"We must take advantage of revival in rains and improvement in soil moisture and encourage farmers to go for early sowing of winter crops and more than make up for the loss in kharif (summer-sown)," Pawar said.
India monsoon graphics suite - here
Four straight weeks of heavier rains than normal from the last week of August have helped India, one of the world's leading producers and consumers of farm commodities, escape a prolonged large-scale drought.
"This year's monsoon has evaded a nationwide meteorological drought due to a dramatic late turnaround, but some states have faced drought," said S. C. Bhan, a director at the Indian weather office.
The country last faced a severe widespread drought in 2009 and had to import sugar, pushing global prices to 30-year highs. This year, drought has hit lentils and cereal crops in some states. Overall, rains are now just 7 percent below average in the entire season.
The monsoon has already retreated from Rajasthan, slightly late but indicating prolonged rains that can damage harvests of summer-sown crops were unlikely. The rains are expected to continue in the northeast until the end of the month.
India's weather office expects the monsoon to completely withdraw from the northwest parts of the country by the weekend.
"Overall weather conditions will be dry in most parts of the country from early next week," Bhan said.
Rains below 90 percent of a 50-year average are termed deficient by the weather office.
(Editing by Jo Winterbottom and Catherine Evans)
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