NEW DELHI, April 26 (Reuters) - India expects total monsoon
rainfall to be average in 2013, a minister said on Friday,
strengthening prospects for one of the world's biggest grains
producers to avoid widespread drought for a fourth straight
India's first official forecast confirms a call by global
experts last week, and points to bumper grain supplies that
would swell huge current stockpiles and hold down world food
"Most likely this year's monsoon is expected to be within
the normal range," Earth Sciences Minister S. Jaipal Reddy told
a news conference in the Indian capital.
Monsoon rains are vital for the 55 percent of the country's
farmland that lacks irrigation facilities, and can make the
difference between India being an exporter or importer of
staples such as rice and sugar.
Rainfall is expected to be 98 percent of the long-term
average during the June to September season, Reddy said. Rains
between 96 percent and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 cm
for the entire season are considered normal, or average.
The last time there was a drought with rainfall below this
range was in 2009 and prior to that, in 2004.
Agriculture accounts for 15 percent of gross domestic
product in Asia's third-largest economy, where more than 800
million people live in rural areas. Ample harvests also help
keep a lid on inflation, now running near 9 percent.
Rain last year fell only about 7 percent below average in
the season, but drought ravaged an area in India's southern and
western states that is roughly the size of southern Europe, and
which is still suffering.
India will issue its final monsoon forecast in June, after
the southwest monsoon has typically covered half the country.