New Delhi: India aims to raise planting of winter-sown crops and improve irrigation to make up for the damage to farms and to try to counter rising food prices after poor monsoon rains hurt crops such as rice and sugarcane.
Monsoon rains have been 29 percent below average this year, raising prospects of bigger sugar imports as well as triggering a sharp rise in food prices and hitting rural incomes.
"Every effort has to be taken to contain and moderate this price increase," Farm Minister Sharad Pawar told a conference of Chief Ministers.
Pawar said farmers across India had suffered after rains were far short of what the weather office predicted.
"Deficit southwest monsoon has adversely affected the agriculture operations in the (summer) season all over the country," he said.
"To salvage the losses... we need to plan for higher crop coverage in the (winter) season," he said.
Pawar said the government needed to closely monitor water levels at the main reservoirs, ensure efficient use of water for irrigation, and help farmers gain better access to funds, fertilisers and seeds for the winter crop.
Rain in cane area
Rainfall has improved since last week but sowing of many crops has already suffered, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, the top cane-producing state, which was drier than the rest of the country.
In west Uttar Pradesh, where most sugar mills are located, monsoon rains have been 68 percent below normal, while in the eastern part of the state, the shortfall has been 53 percent.
The region saw more than four times the normal rainfall on Sunday, and heavy showers are forecast for another 48 hours, the weather office said, adding that rains in the region would decrease after two days.
Madhya Pradesh, a key soybean region, received up to four times the normal rainfall in the middle of last week. Traders had feared productivity might drop up to 7 percent if rains were delayed further.
Soybean, the main summer-sown oilseed crop, had been deprived of rains for about three weeks from late July.
LS Rathore, head of Agromet Division of the India Meteorological Department, said the heavy showers over cane- and soybean-growing belts had "brightened crop prospects".
Sugar industry officials, however, did not agree.
"Rains have no special significance now. Rather heavy rains will harm the standing sugarcane crop," CB Patodia, chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Sugar Mills Association, said.
The weather office forecast "fairly widespread" rainfall over Uttar Pradesh, but Patodia said this may not be good news.
"For the sake of good cane harvest, especially its yield and recovery, rains should not continue now," he said.
India`s cane crop has contracted for a second successive year, raising prospects of large Indian imports and helping raw sugar futures surge to a 28-1/2-year high last week.
The cane area in India, the world`s biggest sugar consumer, has stagnated at 4.25 million hectares since mid-July, mainly due to lack of rains.
Cane area was initially expected to expand sharply from 4.38 million hectares last year, when low domestic output led to a fall in sugar production and made India a large importer.
Traders and industry officials in Bangkok said Thailand, Asia`s top sugar exporter, had sold 13,900 tonnes of refined sugar to India for August shipment.
Pawar said sugar industry officials had assured the government they would help ease the shortage.
A poor monsoon could slow India`s economic growth to around 5.5 percent in 2009/10 (April/March), Nomura said in a research note, adding that the drought could push inflation to 6.5-7 percent by end-March 2010.