Heat wave spells good monsoon, says weatherman

Monsoon rains over South Asia are expected to be normal or near normal this season, the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum said today, easing concerns about the return of drought conditions that parched crops – particularly key crops like cane, soybean and rice - last year.

''Based on the prevailing global climate indicators and forecasts from statistical and dynamic models, rainfall over South Asia is likely to be within the normal range,'' A K Srivastava, director of the India Meteorological Department and a coordinator for the forum, told reporters in Pune. The IMD will issue a separate forecast for the country next week.

India's driest monsoon in 37 years last year caused drought in half the country and forced record imports of sugar and cereals. Normal monsoon rainfall would boost key summer crops such as soybean, reducing purchases by the world's top importer of edible oils, and reduce sugar imports by the world's top consumer of the sweetener.

Rice output in India, the world's second-biggest producer, fell 14 per cent last year, while plunging cane output turned India into a big sugar importer, sending New York raw sugar futures to their highest in 29 years and encouraging the government to freeze exports of most farm commodities. 

Apart from India, dry weather in Pakistan last year led to shortages in wheat and sugar causing food riots, and reduced tea production in Sri Lanka, the world's fourth-biggest grower.

Presentations made at the three-day meeting by some member countries of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and by Asia's regional climate forum headed by China, predicted that rain over north Indian states, the main grain-growing area, may be below average. The southern states may get above normal rain.