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India getting nervous over stalled monsoon

[ 2010-07-05 13:31]     字号 [] [] []  
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No one is saying the words "bad monsoon" yet, but the slow advance of India's crucial rainy season is being followed anxiously after a dry 2009 wiped out crops and fuelled food price rises.

The annual rains, which sweep across the subcontinent from June to September, were 16 percent below normal last month.

After arriving ahead of schedule they have stalled over central India, below the parched, northern plains, which are still counting the cost of last year's failed monsoon - the worst in nearly four decades.

Right now, the monsoon "is not behaving as expected", said weather office director general Ajit Tyagi, although he predicted that the final rainfall figures for the season would be normal.

Not content with the promises of meteorologists, some people in the northern holy city of Varanasi have been conducting "frog weddings" - marrying frogs with full Hindu rituals in a tradition believed to please the rain gods.

The slow onset of the rains has postponed soybean planting in the world's top edible oils importer and could delay rice planting in the northern grainbowl states of Haryana and Punjab.

India, which gets 80 percent of its annual rainfall from the monsoon, is one of the world's leading producers of rice, wheat and sugar.

The uncertain start to the rainy season means more worries about food inflation, which is already running at nearly 13 percent and has a major impact on India's impoverished millions, the Congress-led government's core support.

The government needs a decent monsoon to help rein in the price increases that have triggered opposition-led demonstrations around the country.

The meteorological department's chief monsoon forecaster, D. Pai, has put the stuttering start to the season down to "glitches" and his department says overall rainfall may be slightly above average.

But the same department was wrong last year when it forecast a normal monsoon.

July is the most critical month from a planting perspective - the time when India usually receives the maximum amount of rain.

Agriculture Secretary P.K. Basu said if rainfall was delayed beyond July 5 over northern India it would give cause for worry.

With only 40 percent of arable land under irrigation, India's 235 million farmers rely on the capricious rains to soak the rock-hard earth and turn it into fertile soil.

A bad monsoon can spell financial disaster, wiping out livelihoods for many small landholders eking out a living.

The farm sector's contribution to India's gross domestic product has fallen from 50 percent in the 1950s to 17 percent, but remains vital to the national economy by supporting 700 million rural Indians and fuelling consumer demand for everything from TVs and refrigerators to motorcycles and gold.

"A good monsoon this year is critical from all sorts of standpoints - from consumer demand, to inflation, hydroelectric power and water availability," said one economist at Indian credit rating agency Crisil.

"You can withstand one monsoon failure, but two monsoon failures would make things very difficult," he said.

There is no danger of a famine as the country still has healthy wheat and rice stockpiles from four years of bumper harvests.

But analysts say the challenge for the government is to maintain a steady supply of foodgrains in the market to ensure stable prices and prevent hoarding and black marketeering.


1. What percentage of India’s average rainfall comes from monsoons?

2. What Hindu ritual has been taking place to help encourage rain?

3. What are India’s three major crops fueled by the rain?


1. 80 percent.

2. Marrying Frogs.

3. Rice, Wheat, Sugar.


(中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑)

India getting nervous over stalled monsoon

India getting nervous over stalled monsoon

Todd Balazovic is a reporter for the Metro Section of China Daily. Born in Mineapolis Minnesota in the US, he graduated from Central Michigan University and has worked for the China daily for one year.