* What: Meeting of regional monsoon experts
* When: Consensus South Asian monsoon forecast on April 15
* Where: Pune, India
By Krittivas Mukherjee and Ratnajyoti Dutta
NEW DELHI, April 11 Global experts meeting this
week are likely to forecast a near-normal monsoon for India,
providing international commodities market the first hints of
demand and supply in 2011/12 from one of the world's top
producers and consumers of key farm goods.
Failure of monsoons can force India into the international
markets as a buyer, pushing up global prices of basic
foodstuffs, while favourable rainfall can boost its exports,
helping governments throughout Asia to battle food inflation.
Agriculture accounts for a 14.6 percent of India's GDP and
the outcome of the annual June-September southwest monsoons
impacts the nation's economy, which is struggling with high food
inflation and a massive subsidy bill for fuel, grains and
A normal monsoon means the country receives rainfall between
96-104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 centimetres during the
four-month rainy season, according to the India's weather office
Monsoons also impact demand for gold in India, the world's
top consumer of the metal, as purchases get a boost when farming
incomes rise amid high crop output. Rural areas account for
about 70 percent of India's annual gold consumption.
India witnessed normal rains last year and the April 13-15
meeting of weather officials in the southwestern city of Pune is
likely to forecast a near-normal monsoon this year based on
various forecasting models, Indian officials said.
"The weakening phase of La Nina has given rise to the
expectation of a near-normal monsoon in 2011," said D. R. Sikka,
former director of the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical
Other officials of the Indian weather office, who did not
wish to be identified, agreed. A La Nina weather pattern causes
heavier-than-normal rains in South Asia. After the weak phase,
the La Nina is expected to enter a neutral phase without posing
any threat to good rainfall during the monsoon season.
The Pune meeting will issue a consensus forecast for the
monsoon on the final day of the conference.
While India is mostly self-sufficient in staples like wheat
and rice for its 1.2 billion population, drought can push the
country into international markets as it did in 2009 when India
had to import sugar -- sending global prices to record highs.
The government subsidises the price of key crops to contain
inflation and ensure half a billion poor -- many of whom spend
up to 60 percent of their incomes on food -- can afford to eat.
The first official Indian forecast is not due until later
this month. During 2009, the driest monsoon in 37 years caused
widespread losses to key crops such as oilseeds and sugarcane,
pushing up food inflation and causing a political headache for
Monsoon forecasting in India is carried out by
government-backed organisations and has significant political
implications in a country where more than 60 percent of voters
are in rural communities and form the bulk of the government's
Bad rainfall results in political pressure on the
government, as farmers demand higher rates for their produce and
ask bureaucrats to waive loan repayment and electricity charges,
impacting public finances.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ruling Congress government,
mired in a slew of corruption charges, has struggled with
double-digit food inflation for most of its second term in
office since 2009 when it won an election partly by boosting
farm incomes. In early 2010, India's food inflation went as high
as 22 percent on supply constraints.
The government hopes monsoon rains -- which traverse the
subcontinent from its southern tip to the Himalayan north from
June through September -- would boost farm output and help
lower prices, potentially providing a timely political boost
ahead of key state elections.
"The budget, and the economy as a whole, it is said is a
gamble on the monsoon," Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a leading Indian
political columnist, told Reuters. "The reason is simple --
roughly 60 percent of crop area in the country is rain-fed."
Higher agricultural supplies triggered by normal rains could
encourage the Indian government to allow overseas sale of wheat
and lift export curbs on rice.
India faces a storage problem as the 2011 wheat harvest is
set to be a record, exceeding demand for a fifth straight year.
"The government can make a bold decision on grain exports.
It can tinker with policies if the monsoon shapes up on expected
lines," said Veeresh Hiremath, research head of the
Hyderabad-based broking Karvy Comtrade.
Higher oilseed output last year helped India increase
oilmeals exports to traditional buyers in southeast Asia by more
than half to 5.1 million tonnes. [ID:nL3E7F815S]
In most parts of India, the monsoon accounts for 75-90
percent of the total annual rainfall.
The monsoon impacts other sectors of Asia's third largest
economy, as farmers spend their cash on cars, motorcycles and
consumer goods. Good rainfall reduces demand for diesel, used to
pump water from wells for irrigation when rainfall is scant.
(Editing by Jo Winterbottom, Himani Sarkar)