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 year.
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 prices.
"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.