PUNE South Asia is likely to receive average monsoon rains in 2012, a global forum relied on by governments for forecasting said, erasing the possibility of any drought in the region and India, which is a major consumer and producer of farm commodities.
"The region is likely to receive average rainfall this year," A.K. Srivastava, coordinator of the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum, told a news conference on Friday.
India's top weather official has already said India's monsoon is likely to have average rainfall in 2012 despite fears the El Nino weather pattern may emerge in the second half of the season, pointing to a third straight year without drought.
But Srivastava said rains are likely to be below average in some parts of southern India, echoing the views of a key western forecaster at the meeting.
"The Indian monsoon rains are expected to be average this year but some parts could receive below average downpours," Andrew Colman, senior climate scientist at the British Met Office, told Reuters.
The weather forum, which forecast below normal rains in Sri Lanka and some parts of Pakistan, said the El Nino weather phenomenon is unlikely to influence monsoon rains in the first half of the June-September season.
For graphic on India monsoon - forecast vs actual, click link.reuters.com/xux88r
El Nino, an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial tropical Pacific, is linked with poor rains or a drought-like situation in southeast Asia and Australia.
The La Nina weather pattern, which is associated with heavy rains in south Asia and flooding in the Asia-Pacific region and South America, and drought in Africa, ended in March.
In the interim before El Nino appears, weather officials say, a neutral condition continues over the tropical Pacific.
"The neutral condition is likely to continue for the next couple of months," said Rupa Kumar Kolli, who heads the climate applications and service division of the World Meteorological Organisation.
Monsoon rains, crucial for India's agricultural output and economic growth, irrigate about 60 percent of the country's farms.
According to the state-run India Meteorological Department, rains between 96-104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 centimetres in the entire four-month season is considered normal. The last time there was a drought with rains below this range was 2009 and before that, in 2004.
Average monsoon rains in the past have helped farmers harvest record rice and wheat crops, overflowing silos and forcing the government to store grains in the open.
April 1 wheat stocks at government warehouses were 19.9 million tonnes, nearly five times the official target of 4.0 million tonnes for the quarter ending June 30. Rice inventory was 33.3 million tonnes against a target of 12.2 million tonnes.
Overflowing grain bins prompted India to ease a ban on exports in September. Rice exports have been brisk since then but lower global prices have slowed down sales of wheat.
The government is expected to issue its first forecast for this year's monsoon rains next week.
(Editing by Jo Winterbotoom)