June 3, 2015 / 1:53 PM / 5 years ago

India's annual farm output down, fears of drought this year

NEW DELHI, June 3 (Reuters) - India’s farm sector shrank for the first time in five years in the year ended March 31, Farm Minister Radha Mohan Singh said on Wednesday, a day after the government forecast a likely drought this year that could hit output again.

India’s weather office cut this year’s monsoon forecast on an El Nino weather pattern that has raised fears of the first drought in six years.

El Nino, an event marked by warmer surface waters in the Pacific Ocean, increases the chance of droughts in the Asia Pacific region, including Australia, Southeast Asia and India.

The monsoon rains are vital for the rural economy as three-fifth of India’s population of over 1.2 billion depend on farming for their livelihood.

India’s farm sector accounts for around 15 percent of a $1.2 trillion economy, one of the fastest growing economies of the world where half of croplands lack irrigation.

India’s economy, Asia’s third-largest, grew 7.5 percent year-on-year in the last quarter through March, outstripping China’s 7 percent growth in the same quarter.

But the farm sector posted two straight quarters of negative growth of 1.1 percent each to March.

The farm sector grew 3.7 percent in 2013/14 following a protracted monsoon in 2013.

The four-month long rain season in summer normally starts on June 1, after hitting the southern coast. This year, the onset over the Kerala coast has been delayed by five days to around June 5.

Singh’s ministry has been working on area specific drought plans for 580 odd districts since April when the weather office had forecast a poor monsoon season for this year.

Last year, timely supplies of drought resilient seeds, fertilisers and diesel subsidies minimised damage to grains though the monsoon was 12 percent deficient, Singh said. (Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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