NEW DELHI India's monsoon has splashed back into life, lifting the threat of prolonged drought in the major rice and sugar producer with a second consecutive week of heavier-than-normal rains that could revive yields of summer crops and enable early winter planting.
The rains, vital for the 55 percent of India's farmland without irrigation, were a hefty 31 percent above average in the past week, the weather office said on Thursday.
Three-quarters of the way into the season the rains are still 10 percent short of normal, but the drought's severity has declined as rainfall picked up during the last fortnight in west and south India, where output of cereals and pulses had been threatened.
The revival has allowed the government to hold off further crisis action and it has postponed to next week a planned summit on the drought - the second such meeting this year.
"The monsoon scenario has improved as most of the drought-hit areas of south and western regions received heavy splash in last week," said a senior official of the India Meteorological Department, who did not want to be named.
India, with a huge land mass that contains nearly all climates and soil types, last faced widespread drought in 2009 when the June-to-September monsoon rains were 22 percent below average and it had to import sugar, pushing global prices to 30-year highs.
The weather office earlier this month officially declared the rains to be deficient - below 90 percent of long-term averages and a drought in layman's terms. It is the second drought in four years.
The government has had to take steps to cut irrigation costs and increase fodder supplies for livestock farmers as lack of rains hit animal feed. The drought is also expected to cut output of pulses and trigger higher imports of a cheap source of protein in a country with some half a billion poor people.
Although agriculture experts said the revival is unlikely to erase damage caused by poor rainfall in the first half of the June-to-September rainy season, it could improve yield prospects for summer planted crops such as rice, cane, soybeans and cotton.
It should also help sowing of winter crops such as wheat and rapeseed and is filling up depleted reservoirs, easing a potential drinking water shortage.
"Late monsoon revival will mitigate drinking water problems in rain-fed areas and improve soil moisture before the rabi (winter) sowing," said Y.K. Alagh, chairman of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA).
Water resources in main reservoirs have shown progressive improvement, equaling a 10-year average level in the previous two weeks, also easing concerns about major shortages of hydro-electric power in Asia's third-largest economy.
In the previous week, rainfall across the country was 6 percent above average, as the monsoon revived in rice, cane and soybean areas of the country.
The weather official said the monsoon would remain in an active phase in most parts of northwest and central parts with no sign of any withdrawal from the desert state of Rajasthan, where the four-month-long rainy season usually starts its retreat.
(Editing by Jo Winterbottom and Anthony Barker)