SINGAPORE (Reuters) - La Nina, a weather phenomenon characterized by incessant rainfall, storms and flooding in most parts of Asia, may be emerging again this year, and farmers may have to brace themselves for a “wet” dry season.
La Nina, or “little girl” in Spanish, is a cooling of ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Rains induced by this weather anomaly may lash oil palm, rubber, coffee and cocoa plantations as well as inundate rice fields and open pit mining areas.
“The Pacific Basin remains primed for La Nina,” the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on its Web site (www.bom.gov.au).
Farmers have reported unseasonal rains in rubber, cocoa and coffee plantations in Southeast Asia, which have curbed supply and helped support global prices as well as encouraged main rubber consumer China to stock up.
“It’s already May but still there’s so much rain. I think the world is getting strange,” said a rubber dealer in Jakarta.
“It’s getting tougher to find raw material,” said the dealer, referring to difficulties in extracting latex from rubber trees because of erratic weather.
Parts of Indonesia normally enter the dry season in April and May but rain is still falling in rubber, coffee and cocoa plantations.
In Thailand, the world’s main rubber producer, unseasonal rains disrupted supply and helped spur gains in Tokyo futures.
But in the sub-continent, India awaits the start of the monsoon season, when gold demand in the world’s main consumer normally drops as farmers invest their money in fertilizers to grow crops. Farmers account for 65 percent of India’s demand.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said cooler-than-normal conditions in the Pacific Ocean subsurface, which have persisted since mid-January and led to cooler-than-average surface waters in the far-eastern Pacific, suggested that La Nina was developing.
“These conditions, combined with the fact that all major international coupled models show further cooling of the equatorial Pacific Ocean over the coming months, suggest there is an elevated chance of a La Nina event occurring during 2007.”
In late 2005 through early 2006, the Philippines, the world’s largest coconut oil shipper, was hit by La Nina and experienced above-average rainfall.
Mudslides triggered by heavy rains entombed a community of 1,800 in Guinsaugon on Southern Leyte province, about 675 kilometers (420 miles) southeast of Manila, in February 2006.
La Nina also made its presence felt last year in Thailand, the world’s largest rice producer, bringing an early start to the monsoon.
But rains brought relief to Australia, which has been gripped by its worst drought in living memory since 2002, and were welcomed by farmers in Vietnam, the world’s largest robusta coffee producer and the second-largest exporter of rice.
Australian farmers were finally rewarded when the best rain in 10 years fell throughout eastern and southern grains growing areas towards the end of April -- at exactly the right time for planting of winter grains crops.
Indonesia, the world’s second-largest palm oil producer and a main grower of cocoa, coffee, rubber and pepper, still expects rains in coming weeks but the meteorology department rules out the arrival of La Nina.
“There will be sporadic rains everywhere in Indonesia. It’s going to be wet but it’s not La Nina,” said Suwardi, an official at the national bureau of meteorology and geophysics.
La Nina is less famous and less destructive than El Nino, which has the opposite effect of warming the waters of the Pacific.
El Nino usually causes severe droughts and forest fires in Australia, Central America, Indonesia, the Philippines and India. The worst El Nino on record in 1997/98 killed over 2,000 people and caused property damage worth an estimated $33 billion.
With reporting by Michael Byrnes in Sydney, Mita Valine Liem in Jakarta, Ho Binh Minh in Hanoi, Apornrath Phoonphongphipat in Bangkok and Alfred Cang in Shanghai